Thanksgiving at the local level–did the Grinch come early?

In just a couple of hours I’ll have two active little girls “helping” me get ready for the big day. Fortunately I’ve been planning ahead, because I would much rather spend time with whatever they’d like to do today than any more cleaning and organizing.

I’ve already made a variety of changes to our potential seating arrangements. Yesterday the news was that we had a 50% chance of rain. As I went t bed around 11:30 PM I heard that any precipitation was going to be in the evening. Maybe I didn’t need to set the dining room table after all?

This morning? Some high pressure system has settled and we aren’t expected to have any rain at all. What gives?

We need rain and I hope you know that most of my previous protestations were quite tongue in cheek. I certainly hope that my comments about either being “cold” or concerned about rain are never misinterpreted as complaint. I’d have rocks in my head to protest to any of you. I’ve seen the news footage of freezing storms and all I can do is shake my head in pure amazement.

So it looks like we’ll be setting up our tent after all, and I’ll be sure to take some pictures of our family event. This will be our first year with Zena. I wonder how she’ll do when her peaceful backyard is invaded by 20 hungry visitors?

As I loaded my Costco cart yesterday one word kept floating into my mind’s eye.


Don’t you think that part of being grateful is to share with those in need?

Do you remember Pasadena’s “Fork in the Road?”

Fork in the Road

Last year at this time I wrote about one local effort to address the homeless and hungry at Thanksgiving. 

There are 58,423 homeless people in Los Angeles County; 12% are veterans, 26% chronically homeless and 43% are unsheltered.

And Pasadena, with its large parks, relatively safe environment and warm climate, has been reasonably hospitable for years. There are several cooperative foundations and churches that partner full-time addressing the needs of the homeless and hungry.

One very highly esteemed organization, Union Station Foundation, has a stellar reputation for feeding hungry men, women and children–every day of the week.

And at Thanksgiving and Christmas the entire community gets involved in a most spectacular effort–until this year.

Here’s the situation.

For three decades, maybe more, locals have been encouraged to bring pre-cooked and heated holiday food to Pasadena’s Central Park. One year I even took a turkey. Hundreds of people participate in this wonderful tradition, and then Union Station Homeless Services and local churches coordinate the effort to feed as many hungry people as they can possibly accommodate–usually around 4,000. It is a huge effort.

What’s changed?

Pasadena’s Health Department has shut this effort down, in a so-called effort to protect public health. Really? Do you buy that?

The city’s Environmental Health Division decided because the event was open to the public, any food served had to come through the portals of an approved, regulated facility.

My head could explode!

It won’t be the same, but a church in my own neighborhood has stepped up to accept food donations and is going into a modified “Plan B” to help through two of its homeless family centers.

I think I just decided one thing Sophia, Karina and I can do today. We can certainly find a way to take a few donations to the church, and join the effort to share some of our abundance. Maybe later I can add my protest to such a silly environmental health decision.

It could take me a little effort to get  through the grocery lines today so I’d better get moving. I wish all of you a happy Thanksgiving, even if you don’t celebrate as a national holiday.

We can still practice the art of giving thanks.

I hope by next year Pasadena listens to the uproar of complaint, and gets its act together.

65 thoughts on “Thanksgiving at the local level–did the Grinch come early?

    • It’s just crazy, Jim. I’ve been shaking my head all day! We will have a very nice family day tomorrow…and I’ve been counting my blessings as I think of how 20 of us can be together under one roof, and there’s more than we need to be comfortable. It’s a shame when we can’t share more with others…but I’ll not go off on my rant again! I’ve been doing that in my head all day. Whew!

  1. Why am I not surprised at the grinchy government? Because I work in a school — and here are the regulations we’ve been dealt. When having a school bake sale — you know, to raise funds for a student club — students must pay a tax on that brownie or cupcake. The state must get its share of the sale. The only way around this is if all of the baked goods for sale are counted as donations. Next year, we will only be able to sell store-prepared/wrapped goods — no more home-baked goodies. Perhaps it’s time to occupy Thanksgiving. When a Walmart has to hold a food drive for its own employees (many of whom will work on Thanksgiving while corporate America eats turkey, travels to its mountain cabin, and watches football), there’s clearly a problem.

    I’m sorry to be on a rant, but your post ignited the fuse. In any event, I wish you and yours a blessed Thanksgiving. Make a meaningful memories! Will the trains be running? Perhaps serving food to your guests?

    • Kevin, I really appreciate your “rant”–and I think we all need to do a little more of it. I feel very naive about this “wrapped food” requirement, and somehow just haven’t been aware that it has been creeping into schools and churches. One blogging friend mentioned that in the Chicago area a local church was prohibited from serving baked goods provided by the parishioners following a funeral! I’m just horrified to hear that we’ve apparently been asleep while these rules have slowly taken root! And to tax baked goods at a school fundraiser? I hope we understand what we are doing to young people’s enthusiasm and sense of participation in collaborative events. Where’s the incentive to work together towards a goal? I like your reference to “occupy Thanksgiving.” There needs to be such a total realignment of our priorities and values, and it’s not going to start with corporate America, it can only start at the grassroots level. I am feeling a little overwhelmed by some of this information. I have definitely been asleep at the wheel! I’m awake now! And we will have a lovely day tomorrow. I hope you have a nice warm place to enjoy your meal. I’ve seen those weather reports. Brrrr!

  2. Happy Thanksgiving Debra. 😀 (Thanks for letting us know its not going to rain tomorrow.)

    Its impressive to learn how Union Station Homeless Services and local churches have fed thousands of homeless in Pasadena on Thanksgiving! I’m shocked to learn that this year – when the numbers of homeless are so high – the city’s Environmental Health Division has decided to shut it down! Ugh! For shame!

    • So good to hear from you my friend. It really is shocking, isn’t it? I don’t know how they can justify so abruptly challenging an event that has gone on for decades. I hope the people in the city get good and angry and can somehow reverse this for the future. For shame is right! I hope you enjoy your day tomorrow. And here we are again with dry skies. It’s all kind of crazy, isn’t it!

    • Thank you, Colleen. I hope you, too, have a nice Thanksgiving Day. Yes, I think sometimes that leadership at all levels and in all sectors just too often lose sight of what the end goal should be. In this case, the city of Pasadena has made a decision to worry more about a potential lawsuit than feeding the families that are tremendously underserved in our community. The foundation that has put on this event has such a long-standing, positive reputation in the community, so for them to be targeted really indicates an ill wind sweeping through! I really wonder!

    • Thank you for the Thanksgiving wishes. My little helpers were with me all day, and I know they’re excited about tomorrow. The younger one has put her bid on having a burrito and pumpkin pie for her dinner. LOL! I hope you, too, have a lovely day.

    • It’s really bothered me all day to think about how fear of lawsuits, not a real concern for public safety, has stopped a decades-long philanthropic event. It’s very sad. The city is full of very nice restaurants and I’ve long been bothered about the amount of food that is wasted and the idea that food is literally thrown away rather than donated. I wish we had more interest in solving problems than simply avoiding legal hassles. I think in this regard I’m a little naive…hopeful, but that’s naive. LOL! Thank you for your nice comment. ox

  3. That is so sad about the food for the homeless… the same madness hit the UK some time back, putting an end to jams and cakes being sold at village fetes… Fortunately it hasn’t yet reached Germany, although I did hear that the children in kindergartens are no longer allowed to help prepare their own lunch and they have to buy in tasteless ready-cooked things which the children don’t like! Still, hopefully enough people will save the day in Pasadena somehow and perhaps some kind of arrangenment can be made for future years. Whatever, I wish you and your family a happy (and dry) Thanksgiving, with plenty of rain at the weekend instead! 😉

    • You know, Cathy, I think I’ve been a little naive. So many others have also commented about the number of ways that individuals are no longer able to serve fresh food at public gatherings, including schools. What a sad state of affairs that we care more about law suits than feeding people healthy food choices–or feeding people in need. I feel so badly that this wonderful city-wide Thanksgiving in the Park event has been closed this year. I hope enough people will make noise and this decision can be reversed for next year. And thank you for the Thanksgiving Day wishes. I think we’re going to have a lovely family time. ox

  4. Are you kidding?! Pasadena already got rid of its recycling centers because of the people they attract. (My step-dad refuses to give his recycling to the the city now; he still saves it but he gives it to people who are looking for recyclables.) I swear the city has declared war on anyone who can’t afford the luxury apartments they’re sticking on every street corner.

    • I didn’t know about the recycling centers closing. There is something really off-kilter, and to declare “war” on Union Station Foundation is just incredible. I used to volunteer in the kitchen there, and we couldn’t get any parking passes. So we’d work for an hour and half, and then have to go out on the street and move the car so that we didn’t get ticketed. I thought that was so odd, but it was clear then that they weren’t really interested in supporting the volunteers. I’ve always been so positive about Pasadena as a whole, but I think I’ve kind of soured on that! Thanks for stopping by, Janine, and I hope you and your family have a very nice day tomorrow. ox

  5. Just another example of politicians making me feel like my shorts are in a knot. Pathetic … simply pathetic! Cheers to the churches, social agencies, and volunteers for their efforts. Meanwhile, Happy Thanksgiving to your ample household … and good luck with the preparation! Blessings to all!!!!

    • Thank you, Frank. I hope you have a very nice Thanksgiving. A little hard with your MiL in the hospital, I’m sure. Yes, this situation in Pasadena is just incredible. Thanksgiving in the Park has been a huge event for as long as I can remember and there are going to be many disappointed people tomorrow. It’s so shortsighted! But we took our small donations to the local “fill in” church and the girls got to see a little of how it goes when people work together, and I think that the citizenry will need to demand better from the leadership in Pasadena for a better future. I think we’re going to have a “dry” sky tomorrow, so we’re going to be outdoors. I hope that you are comfortable wherever you gather. 🙂

      • Good that you still had a chance to show the girls volunteers at work. Our Thanksgiving will be quite different. Yes, time at the hospital, but we will treat my FIL to a lasagna meal. As you prepare to go outside, it’s darn cold here! Cheers to your family gathering!

  6. We are seeing some of the same kind of inane decisions here, Debra, and it is frustrating. A friend’s brother just passed away, suddenly, and the church, of all places, would not let folks bring in food they baked. Local health department violation, it seems. They are working around it, but, just doesn’t seem right. At any rate, good for you, however, for doing what you can right now, and involving those little girls in the process of giving.

    Happy Thanksgiving, dear friend, and bless you for share your abundance in so many ways.

    • Penny, I’m responding to my comments from the top down, and one of my blogging buddies just commented, “what’s next? church potluck dinners?” and now I read your response that your friend wasn’t able to use the church provide baked goods through the offering of the parishioners. Local health department violation! This is really new to me, but as you’re mentioning it, I can easily see how this kind of decision-making can just go viral. Where to stop? I know that at the university if we order in food from the catering department (for a meeting or event) we can’t give any of the leftovers to the students. Same concern. And it’s so sad. The kids are half-starved sometimes because of being so short on funds, and we know the food is thrown out. Don’t tell anybody, but sometimes we sneak some of it out! LOL! It’s criminal.

      My grandmother was instrumental in helping me learn to share and be aware of others in need, and I feel a really strong sense of commitment to pass along some awareness to the girls. Especially when I see what’s in my refrigerator for us to eat tomorrow! LOL! I hope you, too, have a very abundant day–in ways much more than food, of course! 🙂 ox

  7. Really is that what Pasadena does? Next they will be shutting down church potluck dinners. I so love your philosophy to be planned ahead so you can spend time with what is important. We are so fortunate to have so much abundance. I hope your sharing efforts work out. Happy Thanksgiving! ~Thea

    • Hi Thea, and thank you! Yes, the city did shut this event down. It was challenged to so late that I don’t think the citizenry had time to fight the decision, but I’m suspecting there will be enough uproar that perhaps this will be a temporary ban. But I think you’re not at all far off from the potential that church potluck dinners could be a serious threat to public health. Oh boy but we’re in trouble! 😦 Thanks for the Thanksgiving wishes. I hope you’re doing well, too! 🙂

  8. What idiocy, Debra. Is all of America going insane? It is great that you are stepping up and teaching your granddaughters the importance of giving.

    We had a big chop landing in San Diego today. No problems getting to Mexico. I am looking at the glittering arm of the Milky Way, and I am thankful to be safely in your time zone. I hope the tent Thanksgiving goes off without a hitch.

    • It’s so good to know you’ve arrived safely. I was concerned that you’d have trouble meeting your deadlines! It’s very fun thinking of you being relatively close. 🙂

      And yes, I am beginning to think that Americans have completely lost their minds. I understand the concern about possible litigation if someone sued the city, but give me a break. I did take the girls shopping and we took some food over to the church. It’s a drop in the bucket, but I do want them to think a little bit about how much we have and it’s obvious to me, that if local charities are going to have their hands tied, it’s going to be up to individuals to make fill in the gaps.

      See you soon. 🙂

  9. That new rule isn’t sensible, it’s cruel. So many people willing to give to others in need and they’re being shut-down for it. Ridiculous. And as for health issues, you actually get a lot more going hungry. Happy Thanksgiving and I’ll look forward to hearing all about it xx

    • You express my thoughts beautifully, Charlie. People hungry and living on the street deserve a nice meal at Thanksgiving. I wonder if we’ll ever get to the place where anything held in a public forum will require us to sign waivers. I think we’ve all lost any semblance of common sense, and it may be too late to ever get it back! It’s quite a world sometimes, isn’t it? 🙂

  10. bureaucracy is the same the world over, here our saying is “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” when it comes to the local council … happy thanksgiving to you and yours 🙂

    • Thank you, Christine. We had a lovely Thanksgiving. And I love the saying…”better to ask forgiveness…” I’ll be making a few inquiries this week to “fact check” how this has happened. Then I’d love to see how we can continue to make some positive impact and skirt the prohibitions. I’m sure the foundation is already creating Plan B for the future. 🙂

  11. Wow, I’m stunned. When I read your post, I thought, “For Pete’s sake, it’s just a potluck!” Then I read the responses from Kevin and all your other informed, caring readers.
    Good luck with your protests. Fifty-eight thousand signatures would be a nice start to a petition.
    And do have a happy Thanksgiving. Enjoy your time with the Little Helpers.

    • I like your idea of a city-wide petition, Dandy. I was on the same wavelength with the idea that a city-wide potluck with a thirty year history should be protected against the fear of litigation. But I’ve obviously been a little uninformed! We’ll see what happens and how the foundation perhaps reorganizes its efforts. We did have a nice day yesterday. Thank you!

  12. This is a prize example of what, in the UK, is always called Health and Safety run mad. I could fill a blog post, let alone a comment with similar decisions which have caused public unrest, if not uproar. I do hope there are lots of Plan Bs and that the disadvantaged will be enabled to share in the bounty of Thanksgiving. Have a wonderful day, Debra, and I look forward to your photos.

    • We had a very nice, warm and dry Thanksgiving, thank you. And the day before I took the little girls to the store and we bought some canned goods to donate. We’ll find ways to do what we can, but what a discouraging difference from fresh, home-prepared foods! I really had not realized how many new regulations were infringing on the previously established community-wide outreach programs. I guess I’ve been a little naive and uninformed. Now that I’m hearing the stories from other people I realize how wide-spread the problem, and I’m ready to add my voice to the uproar. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Perpetua. ox

  13. I can’t imagine being able to celebrate Thanksgiving outside, that sounds wonderful! Hope the rain stays away for you 🙂
    And that’s really unfortunate about the community meal… I do hope that everyone is able to get through to them and it returns next year– just how out of touch can they be? Geeze. At least other people/places have stepped up to fulfill that need.
    Happy Thanksgiving!

    • I know, Aussa. Sometimes I feel a little uncomfortable stressing how easy-going our climate is, but I think blogging is sharing our experiences, and this is Southern California. I always say that the reward for living in all this craziness is a very hospitable climate! It was a very nice day yesterday, and then rain came through today. We were glad to have it–post Thanksgiving 🙂 I hope you also had a very nice day. And the foundation that supports the annual Thanksgiving in the Park event will hopefully find a new way to address the needs of the city’s homeless population in a way that will address the concerns, but still achieve the goal of feeding the community’s hungry! Thank you for your lovely comment.

  14. Debra, that would annoy me too! There are so many regulations that are at odds with compassion. It’s good to hear that some churches are helping out. I’m from the Chicago area, and I know that there are many rules related to the distribution of food in the city. I know it’s often impossible for restaurants to give leftover food to homeless shelters. I wish there were better solutions for helping those in need. My family gives non-perishable food to a shelter in Aurora where I live through our church, but it does seem like the homeless deserves home cooked meals from fresher ingredients too.

    Hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving!


    • Thank you, Karen, we really did have a very nice Thanksgiving Day. I hope you did as well! I was just sad that a thirty-year institution would be halted at the very last minute. I’ve done some volunteering through the organization that sponsors it, and it was an absolutely joyous occasion. The people being served were treated with such respect, served family-style and it was unlike anything I’ve ever seen, or even heard of in the past. I suppose there will be new ways to address the problem of feeding the hungry “en masse” but I’ll be curious to see how it works out. There is so much waste because of our fear of litigation, and it must be a continual frustration to the organizations trying so hard to serve the community. It’s a complicated situation, I’m sure, and I’m sure that I’m bringing it all down to the emotional. 🙂

  15. I dunno, Debra. Everyone is so litigious these days. It only takes one unscrupulous person to “fall ill” and then sue the city for allowing the event. It’s not like he/she would have a hard time finding an attorney. Having done volunteer work, I know these people to be an intelligent, resourceful group. If there’s a way around the new regulations, they will find it. This year, it sounds to me that they were caught unawares. They’ve got 12 months. Let’s see what they com up with.
    I hope your Thanksgiving celebration was fantastic, Debra, with not so much as a cloud in the sky.

    • We did have a very nice Thanksgiving, outdoors, yesterday, John, and then woke to rain! It was the perfect arrangement. Hope you had a nice day, too. And you’re right, I think, that Union Station Foundation was caught off-guard. The community-wide event has been huge and hugely successful for thirty years. I hope someone was simply overzealous and perhaps this was a fluke. I sense not, but I don’t know. I think donations will probably go up as a result of the negative publicity, and perhaps the homeless center will find a way to serve the families in different ways. I do understand the litigious climate, but it strikes me as such a shame that we are also becoming more and more hamstrung. Soon people will be afraid to donate anything without a signed waiver. It’s really complicated, isn’t it?

  16. Dear Debra, First off, a very Happy Thanksgiving Season to you! Now, I must admit that, for a moment, I didn’t recognize your blog. It is looking FABULOUS!!! Your new template and photos rock. Love it.
    I’ve been on hiatus/ in absentia for many months and so, I’m thrilled to reconnect again. TY for lifting me up and cheering me on while I was silent. It meant a lot to me. TY too for keeping this blog rocking. I missed it and you. Glad to be back again.

    • It’s really nice to see you back, Eliz. I really did check in on you from time to time just making sure I hadn’t suddenly lost the stream of emails! Every now and then life just interferes with the ability to stay connected, but the truth is that we make friends across the blogosphere, and when we lose track, it’s a disappointment. I’m so glad you have found a way to get back “with it.” 🙂 Thank you for noticing the changes to the “look” of the blog. It’s so fun to give it a little tweak once in a while. ox

  17. Urgh! That’s awful of them to shut the good deed event. In Venice Beach, they have a tent set up where they feed the homeless and people can make donation. That’s really an awesome thing.
    Happy Thanksgiving, Debra. It’s not a late greeting. Everyday should be Thanksgiving. 😀 Cliche and alibi, what a great combo! 😉 😛

  18. It’s amazing how bureaucrats can turn down good efforts to help those in need. And it’s hard to believe the arguments they use. Good then that others stepped up, like your church. Looking at the figures you present it looks like much needed. I hope you had a nice Thanksgiving with your family, Debra!

    • I had a very nice Thanksgiving, Otto. Thank you. The bureaucracy involved in this decision to stop Thanksgiving in the Park under the guise of public safety is really sad to me. I fear that public policy is becoming even more intrusive into the lives of people with a simple goal of wanting to help others. We have a very large homeless population and typically it is the churches and fraternal organizations that make the biggest impact, so to have local government make it even more difficult–very discouraging!

  19. It’s wonderful that your community has pulled together so many times to feed homeless and hungry people on holidays. I hope you all will find good, new ways to continue to do it. The park feed sounds like it was a fabulous event. I hope you all enjoyed your Thanksgiving Day.

    • We had a very nice day, Sharyn, but I do admit to always being just a little relieved when it’s over! LOL! Part of being host is never sitting down on such a big day, and today I was just enjoying that everyone else had a really good time. The Thanksgiving in the Park every year was such a large, respectful,community-wide event. I’ve never heard of another “community meal” quite like it. I do hope the community will come together and put pressure on the city to put aside its very short-sighted (and small minded) regulation. I hope you, too, had a nice Thanksgiving Day. It’s really good to hear from you. 🙂

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