A giving meal on Thanksgiving

By Mary Valterria

RCC Culinary Academy provides a Thanksgiving meal for those in need

turkey-feast

When most people think of Thanksgiving, they think of food and family. There are some people, however, who don’t even have the means to eat meals on a regular day. For these people, Thanksgiving is just another date on the calendar.

The Riverside City College Culinary Academy partnered with the Riverside County Workforce Development Board to help remedy this situation by providing a traditional Thanksgiving meal for those who were hungry.

During the Nov. 22 event, students at the Culinary Academy donated their services alongside members of the community. Volunteers of various economic standing served food to those in need.

“I invite civic leaders and elected officials to come and serve,” Chairman of the Workforce Development Board Jamil Dada said. “I want them to see the faces of young children who go through the line and see how bright their smiles are.”

Dada said that the goal of this event was to give back to the community, especially those who are going through a tough time.

Dada went on to point out that there is a misconception that everyone in need of a meal is homeless. Dada said he has learned from past years that even though some people appear to be doing well economically, it may not always be the case.

“There are a lot of underprivileged people trying to make ends meet,” Dada said. “We all know people who are struggling.”

This year, in accordance with Dada’s observation, people from all walks of life were in line to receive the free meal. The line, which was formed on the side of the RCC Culinary Academy, wrapped around the building and spilled into the adjacent alley.  

There were men and women of all different races. Some arrived by car, while others arrived by foot. There were some people in line who were dressed very nice, yet for others it was clear that they were down on their luck. Despite the many outward differences, all attendees had one thing in common. They were all waiting to be fed.

Jeremy Merriman, who crossed the street from the downtown bus station after hearing about the free meal, said the event was a much needed blessing.

“I’ve fallen on hard times,” Merriman explained. “I lost my job and I don’t really have a place to stay … I haven’t eaten a full meal in a really long time.”

Merriman wasn’t the only one in line who had fallen on hard times. John Bradford, a friend of Merriman, said he couldn’t remember the last time he ate a hearty meal.

“I’m hungry,” he said.

The RCC Culinary Academy has joined forces with the Riverside County Workforce Development Center for over a decade to provide the annual Thanksgiving meal to those who are in need of food.  

According to Dada, each yearly event brings another level of enlightenment.

“Seeing the families who have lots of children come through the line is an eye-opening experience,” Dada said. “It happens every year and it’s a reminder that kids are going hungry.”

Dada said that each year they serve about 400 – 500 people. This year the count was about the same.

RCC Culinary students and volunteers interacted with attendees as they served them at their tables. Conversations ranged from recent elections to finding work and health care.   

“We make connections with some of these people,” Dada said. “They are all good people.”

Dada is also a board member with the Riverside Community College District Foundation. Dada said he has been involved with RCC activities for over 25 years and that the college is near and dear to his heart.

“My wife and daughter are alumni,” he said.

Dada said the team of students and faculty who contribute to this event aren’t able to pull it all off alone. They rely very heavily on donors to support the cost of the food that is served.

“There are lots of wonderful people out there who step up and support this (event),” Dada said. “I thank them for their generosity.”

Dada wasn’t the only person at the luncheon who was thankful.

“I’m … thankful to be here,” Bradford said. “I probably wouldn’t have eaten today if not for this act of kindness.”

Dada urged anyone who is interested in donating for next year’s Thanksgiving meal to contact the Workforce Development  Board.

“The event takes place every year on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving,” Dada said. “If people can’t help with donations or with serving food, they can always help to publicize it.”