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In Echo Park, turkey giveaway ensures happy Thanksgivings

15th annual event at the Dream Center in Echo Park sees to it that thousands of Angelenos in need get a bird and a bag of groceries for the upcoming holiday.

November 22, 2009|By Ruben Vives
  • Mary Mongalo, right, and friend Piedad Valenzuela, center, each receive a turkey from volunteers at the Dream Center. People also received a bag of groceries.
Mary Mongalo, right, and friend Piedad Valenzuela, center, each receive… (Christina House / For The…)

Thousands of people, some of whom had camped out overnight, stood in line outside the L.A. Dream Center in Echo Park on Saturday to receive a free bag of groceries and a 12-pound turkey for Thanksgiving.

"It's a blessing in this time of need," said Lenthon Clark, 58, who is disabled and recently underwent cancer treatment. "Every little thing you get is a big help."

One elderly woman traveled in her electric wheelchair nearly a mile to the center and began to cry when she arrived late and saw that the giveaway was closing down. But volunteers were still able to offer her food.

Pastor Matthew Barnett, founder of the center, led scores of volunteers in prayer before the 15th annual Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway. Throughout the morning, families filed through the center's parking lot, where they collected their turkey and a bag filled with dried potato flakes, canned peas and green beans. Music played in the background as volunteers smiled and wished people a happy Thanksgiving.

Organizers said several people started standing in line at 2 p.m. Friday.

"It's unprecedented," Barnett said. "We've never seen anything like that before."

The center gave away about 1,800 turkeys and bags of groceries. Organizers say they plan to distribute 300 more today at their church, the Angelus Temple, in Echo Park.

Gloria Chica, 28, a housekeeper who has little work currently, stood in line for several hours with her 3-year-old daughter.

"You know, lately some families don't have jobs, and if you don't have a job, you can't have a Thanksgiving meal," she said. "But, thankfully, you can get one here."

Chica said she had been cleaning three to four houses a month but now goes weeks without work because her former employers have lost their jobs.

The center, a nonprofit organization, was founded in 1994 by Barnett and his father, Tommy. Since then, through its numerous programs and outreaches, the center has provided shelter, rehabilitation, education and job training for the homeless, abandoned teens, gang members and addicts.

ruben.vives@latimes.com

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