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VOICES / A FORUM FOR COMMUNITY ISSUES | Community Interview

Community Celebrates Thanksgiving

November 18, 2000|Alice Graves

About 12 years ago, Alice Graves and Ann Tasjun of Laguna Beach did volunteer work together, feeding the homeless a yearly Thanksgiving dinner. They were often surprised by the depth of the community's support. Volunteers called and offered to help, and many people who had no family in the area wanted to join with others to share the holiday.

The pair were thrilled with the ever-increasing popularity of their Thanksgiving program and 10 years ago transformed the event into an annual potluck in Bluebird Park, a children's play area in Laguna Beach. The city has allowed the celebration as long as its participants clean up afterward.

This year, more than 300 people are expected to attend the noon potluck.

TALYA MEYERS spoke with Alice Graves about the annual Thanksgiving potluck.

We feel that dignity and self-esteem are important. When the people who have the money are feeding those who don't, we feel that that lowers self-esteem.

It doesn't work like that with our community potluck. If you can afford to bring something, you do so, and if not, that's fine, too, and you can just come. The low-income and homeless people contribute too; they usually help set up the food and tables.

We draw a real cross section of people, from those who are homeless and sleep in sleeping bags at night to city officials, business owners, affluent people in the community.

People ask what they can bring, and aside from finding out how many people are bringing turkey, we tell them to bring whatever they want. There's always enough of everything, and if there aren't enough green beans or something, somehow it works out anyway. Besides, not asking or telling people what to bring simplifies our job.

It's very disorganized and that's what makes it fun. Everybody is coming together, a community getting together, and that's really what makes it such a special event. This is the way a community should be.

They're all people who enjoy the whole idea of the spirit of getting together--with all kinds of people. Thanksgiving was designed for getting together, for the Indians and Pilgrims, two different kinds of people, to join together.

And even though everyone just brings one dish, when everybody who can brings a little bit, it becomes a lot. Enough to feed the world, it sometimes seems, and even have leftovers.

This year we're going to have a vegetarian table that the Hare Krishnas, who have a temple in Laguna Beach, are going to bring food for.

We feel like it's a big family, and we ask everyone to sit down with us. The other day, a woman called me up. She had missed last year because of a family emergency. She told me that she had kept my number because the potluck was the highlight of her year and she wanted to make sure we were doing it this year.

Sometimes, the people who come have other places to be, but they show up for the spirit, which is rare in this day and age.

Many families bring blankets and have a picnic Thanksgiving. We also get chairs and tables from the Congregational church. If it rains, we get to go to their fellowship hall. But we've never needed to do that. It's always a beautiful day.

For more information, contact Alice Graves at (949) 497-3067.

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