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Giving--Every Day of the Year

Anaheim restaurateur Frank Garcia expands his free Thanksgiving dinner for thousands to a wide-scale outreach program.

May 23, 2000|JUDY SILBER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

For 16 years, Frank Garcia, 53, has hosted a Thanksgiving dinner for thousands at his Anaheim restaurant, La Casa Garcia. Preparing the feast takes weeks, and the work exhausts him for months.

But instead of doing less this year, Garcia has decided to take on more, by starting an outreach program to help the young, the old and the poor all year long.

Garcia has ambitious goals for We Give Thanks, his nonprofit organization. Mostly he wants to raise money for college scholarships and organize events to bring the young and elderly together. But he also wants to spread the word about his Thanksgiving dinners and persuade others to follow his example.

"My dream is for every restaurant to close and give away food on Thanksgiving," Garcia said.

Garcia has decided to devote himself full-time to the new project. Though he began only a few months ago, he's already leased office space in Anaheim, hired a full-time director, held a Mother's Day dinner that raised about $6,000, put out a fund-raising CD by Trio Guadalajara (Garcia wrote the first song's lyrics) and started a new glossy magazine.

Garcia said his desire to help others comes from having grown up poor in Texas with parents who counted pennies and worked hard to provide for their five children. His father pumped gas from early morning to late at night. His mother made tamales which Garcia sold around town for 50 cents a dozen.

At 15, Garcia quit school to help support his family. Though he went on to own a successful business, he regrets not having an education and wants to promote advanced schooling for others. As a start, he's promised Horizon High Schools in Orange County--alternative schools for struggling students--$10,000 for college scholarships.

The desire to connect youth with the elderly stems from respect for his parents, who he said taught him to give to others. The elderly are too often neglected, said Garcia, and youths need a sense of purpose.

Kevin Draper began volunteering at Garcia's Thanksgiving dinners about 10 years ago. A food broker, he began soliciting bread donations, but soon found himself taken in by Garcia's good intentions. Without too much effort, Garcia persuaded him to organize the hundreds of volunteers every year.

"Frank has the biggest heart of any man I've ever met. I get choked up when I think about the guy," Draper said, a sentiment that is echoed by others.

Said former City Councilman Irv Pickler: "He's a loving man. He's grateful for what he's got and wants to give back to the community."

And while Garcia's new responsibilities mean he won't be seen at his La Casa Garcia restaurant as much, the man with the plan has an answer for that too. His children will help pitch in.

*

Judy Silber can be reached at (714) 966-5988.

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