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Morongo say 'thank you' to farmworkersn

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MECCA, Calif. - For the fourth straight year the Morongo Band of Mission Indians delivered Thanksgiving meals and relief to less fortunate California families.

In the last four years the tribe has delivered more than 60,000 meals to people throughout California. This has been possible through partnerships with several well-known California charitable organizations, including the San Francisco-based Glide Memorial Church and the Watts Learning Center, Los Angeles Mission, Para Los Ninos (For the Children) and United American Indian Involvement.

The tribe sends donations and workers to these organizations, but this year it decided to do something closer to home - distribute meals to 200 low-income families, many of them farmworkers, near the desert hamlet of Mecca. Invitations were circulated through area low-income apartments.

"We wanted to help the farmworker community, to give thanks to the people who make Thanksgiving possible for us," says tribal member Leatrice Briones, who has been instrumental in the charitable effort since the beginning.

Briones noted that winter is the off-season for many farm workers, who often have to stretch summer paychecks to survive.

The tribe tried its first effort in Mecca last year and expanded it this year.

"Last year we served 50 ... families, this year we have the resources to feed 225 of them," says tribal member Frances McGill. She said more than 1,000 meal boxes will be delivered.

The Thanksgiving dinner for the families includes a frozen turkey, potatoes, gravy, green beans, stuffing, sweet potatoes and a pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

The Morongo also distribute non-perishable goods like blankets and shoes to the families. It also is also helping several families facing eviction with rent to help them get through the winter.

"We wanted to help prevent some families from becoming homeless during the holiday season," said tribal council member Luanne Castaneda. "Because this is going to be a cold winter, the tribe is also distributing blankets and also collecting information from families on shoe sizes for future assistance."

Tribal chairwoman Mary Andreas says the Morongo felt obligated to do something when they became economically self-reliant through gaming. It was not so long ago that people came to Morongo to give tribal members food and donations when they were in need themselves, she said.

"We've been on the other side and we felt we should help out now that times are better."

This year more than 60 tribal members are participating in the project including many children and elders. Tribal council sources say the children have been instrumental in the work of putting the meals together.

"The Thanksgiving holiday was inspired by Indian friendship and it feels right now to extend a helping hand," says tribal vice chairman Tom Lyons.