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Ventura County

Mission Serves a Feast With a Side Dish of Hope

Charity: Volunteers prepare 2,000 pre-Thanksgiving turkey dinners for the poor, hungry and homeless at Oxnard shelter and two other sites.


Oxnard resident Jimmey Encinas loves a hearty meal, but that is not the only reason he came to the Ventura County Rescue Mission on Wednesday for its annual pre-Thanksgiving feast.

Five years ago, Encinas was homeless. And his two boys, 3-year-old Brandon and 6-year-old Jezse, had been taken from him. The Rescue Mission helped him get sober, find a job and regain custody of his children.

"I keep coming back here to show my boys where I came from," said Encinas, 43. "And I also want to encourage the other guys who are here. If I can do it, anyone can."

Volunteers from throughout Ventura County served more than 2,000 pounds of turkey, 200 pounds of potatoes and 1,500 slices of pumpkin pie to the poor, hungry and homeless Wednesday afternoon on the back patio of the Rescue Mission's Oxnard shelter.

"It's such a wonderful thing," said volunteer Mickey Flynn Westbrook, 74, of Oxnard. "When you give them the food, you see their faces, and they're so thrilled and happy--it's great."

The Great Thanksgiving Banquet is one of the shelter's biggest events, but it also serves about 700 free meals each day. In addition, the mission provides clothing, medical services and counseling to recovering alcoholics. The 150-bed facility is the county's only year-round shelter for homeless men.

Reggie and Erin Watson have been bringing their two boys, 8-year-old Steven and 10-year-old James, to meals at the shelter for about three years.

Since the couple's Ventura home burned down, they said they have had a hard time getting back on their feet. The Rescue Mission has given them food, clothes, shoes and occasionally money.

"We're trying to make it day by day," said Reggie Watson, 43. "Of course, around the holidays it can be tough."

James, eager for a pile of mashed potatoes, admired the hand-colored place mats that had been made by students at Redwood Middle School in Thousand Oaks.

"Mine is so cool!" he said, displaying a colorful picture of the Mayflower.

The eighth-graders drew the Pilgrim-inspired pictures on the mats Wednesday morning, then helped deliver them and serve the turkey dinners.

"We've all had hard times, and it's nice to know you can come out and help people who don't have very much right now," said 13-year-old student Haley Krug.

By the end of the day, the mission served 2,000 Thanksgiving meals--at the shelter, during a service in a Ventura park and at a dinner for the homeless in the San Fernando Valley, said Tomas Cassia, director of food services.

The overflowing plates got rave reviews.

"I am so thankful for this meal," said 42-year-old Mark McDonald, who said he just arrived in Oxnard on Wednesday morning on a bus from Santa Rosa. "It's absolutely delicious."

All of the food was prepared over the last few days in the shelter kitchen by former Rescue Mission residents who were trained to be cooks at the Oxnard mission.

"Everyone has a right to eat well," Cassia said. "Money shouldn't matter."

That attitude seemed to touch many who enjoyed the meal Wednesday.

Encinas became choked up when talking about how the mission, and its director, Carol Roberg, supported him when things were tough.

"I'm thankful for my boys, my health and for Carol," he said. "This place really opened up my eyes."


The mission will host another meal from noon to 2 p.m. today, and other charities in Ventura County will offer special Thanksgiving Day programs open to the public. Among them:

* The Samaritan Center in Simi Valley will serve meals from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at St. Francis of Assisi Episcopal Church, 280 Royal Ave.

* The Veterans of Foreign Wars, 300 Surfside Drive in Port Hueneme, will serve meals to military personnel from Naval Base Ventura County at 11 a.m., as well as a public dinner service at about 1 p.m.

* The Oxnard-Port Hueneme Salvation Army will serve free meals at 11 a.m. at 622 W. Wooley Road.

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