“Hope Begins With a Meal”: Thanksgiving Donation From the Morongo Band Feeds Thousands

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Her name was Jane Doe. She was a 70-year-old homeless woman who lived on the streets in Beverly Hills. But every Thanksgiving, she’d hop on a bus down to Skid Row for the annual Thanksgiving Street Event organized by the Los Angeles Mission.

“She knew our meals were good, and that’s why she came here,” Herb Smith, president of the Los Angeles Mission, told ICTMN. Sadly, Jane Doe passed away earlier this year. But the mission continues to serve the less fortunate every day, and this Thanksgiving – thanks in part to a generous donation of 300 18-pound turkeys by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians – Smith and his army of volunteers and celebrity chefs will provide another unforgettable feast to 3,500 mostly homeless people on Skid Row.

“As we say here at the mission, ‘Hope begins with a meal,’” said Smith, who has seen firsthand that a simple, warm meal, beautifully presented, can inspire the homeless. “It’s hard to talk to people when they are hungry. But when they’ve had a nice meal, and they are feeling a little better about themselves, many times they are willing to say, ‘You know, maybe I need to do something different.’”

The Los Angeles Mission is one of more than 100 different groups that will provide Thanksgiving meals to the poor today. Through the Morongo Band of Mission Indians Thanksgiving Outreach Program, 10,000 turkeys have been given away this year to churches, shelters, food pantries and veterans groups in Southern California, and nearly another 1,000 to similar groups in the San Francisco Bay Area.

“We started this program 29 years ago, and we have given away nearly 100,000 turkeys in all,” said Tom Linton, a tribal council member. “Helping other people has always been a tradition with our tribe. I grew up with that instilled in me.” Linton said that with the tribe’s economic success, it’s been a blessing to be able to help surrounding communities. “It really warms our hearts to do it.”

One of the largest donations given out this year is 400 birds to the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission in Indio, Calif., a 43,000-square-foot facility that provides services to the homeless: emergency shelter, 650 meals a day, education and job training to the underserved, and has two resident programs. Said Community Relations Manager Scott Wolf, “The Morongo donation was an absolutely humongous blessing. Because of those turkeys, we will be able to serve over 39,000 meals.”

Many of the turkeys will find their way into people’s homes, too. Simone Carter, a 40-year-old single mother of three, will be getting an entire Thanksgiving basket of food from the Galilee Center in Mecca, a farm-working community with the highest unemployment rate in the Coachella Valley, according to The Desert Sun. The basket includes rice, beans, vegetables, pasta and of course, a turkey.

“I wouldn’t be able to afford to get a turkey on my own, and I am thankful that now I will be able to have Thanksgiving dinner here at home with my sons,” said Carter.

Pastor Paul Jones of the Zion Elect New Generation Ministry in San Bernardino, Calif. is equally grateful to the Morongo Tribe for the 75 turkeys he has given out to individual families in his community. Mostly, he is impressed by their size.

“We are very, very pleased because the turkeys were so large!” he said of the 18-pounders. When one family of nine saw how big the turkeys were he said “it blew them away,” and the mother started crying.

For Chris Proctor, a U.S. Navy veteran and commander of VFW Post 1956 in Menifee, Thanksgiving is a time for sharing. Not only is he sharing his post’s bounty of 75 Morongo turkeys with two other VFW posts that didn’t submit their applications in time, but also, he and his wife will be spending their holiday time by delivering hot meals to senior veterans in Sun City.

“Some of these vets fought in World War II. They really are shut-ins and don’t get out much,” said Proctor, a Cherokee descendant. He said a local restaurant has volunteered to cook the donated turkeys for the meals he will help deliver on Thanksgiving Day.

As for what all those turkeys cost the Morongo Tribe, Council Member Linton said it doesn’t matter. “It’s not about the dollar value. It’s about our tribe being able to give back and help feed the community,” he said. “We are just really happy and blessed to be able to do it.”

Lynn Armitage is a contributing writer to ICTMN and an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wisconsin.