Lillian Mobley used to rise early on Thanksgiving, slipping the turkey into the oven and beginning work on the candied yams and macaroni and cheese. She loved laboring over pies and cakes in the quiet of her Los Angeles home, before it filled with hungry friends and family members.
But Mobley had to discontinue her holiday tradition four years ago after the fingers on her left hand were amputated because of complications from diabetes. Since then, the 80-year-old has been grateful that a hot meal of turkey and all the fixings is just a phone call away. This year, she was one of hundreds who received a free Thanksgiving meal delivered to her front door by the nonprofit groups Ward Economic Development Corp. and Mothers in Action.
The meals are distributed by request across the county every Thanksgiving. Most of the recipients are low-income seniors with limited mobility or those who don't have family in the area. One 81-year-old man requested 18 meals so he could deliver them to homeless war veterans he had befriended at a nearby park. "That is marvelous," Edward Shaw said, eyeing the large order carried into his living room. "That lets me know God is still on the throne!"
The free service began in the 1990s after Ward Villas, an apartment complex in University Park for low-income seniors, hosted a Thanksgiving meal for its residents. With the help of donations, the lobby became a banquet hall and tables were dressed with white linen cloths and laden with silverware and china. Seniors were allowed to invite guests and enjoyed tableside service.
"When you're old, sometimes younger people don't pay you no mind, but here we are treated like kings and queens," said Lorrinner Laws with a laugh. The 79-year-old retired nurse moved into Ward Villas 15 years ago and has attended every Thanksgiving dinner.
"Normally when we think of helping people, we think of just giving them the least, but we need to celebrate our elders," said Jackie Dupont-Walker, president of Ward Economic Development Corp. "Whatever their version of a five-star eating establishment is, that's what we want to give them."
After hosting the dinner for a couple of years, organizers learned that those food delivery programs that catered to seniors often shut down during the holidays. The operation at Ward Villas thus became two-fold, with volunteers flooding the halls to help serve up plates heavy with stuffing, green beans and gravy and boxing up meals to be loaded into waiting cars. This year 200 seniors were served at the residence and 800 meals were packed up for delivery.
Armed with addresses, maps and a car full of individually wrapped dinners, volunteer Brian Williams, 44, headed to the Pasadena area Thursday to drop off 30 meals. Williams wanted his two teenage sons, who were along for the ride, to understand the effects of community service.
"A lot of it is not so much the food but for the recipient to see someone who cares about them," Williams said. "Delivery may take five minutes, but fellowship can take 20 minutes because a lot of these folks don't have anyone to talk to."
Jataun Valentine, 73, said she enjoys taking meals to Venice on Thanksgiving, a task she first took up five years ago. "To see the smiles on their faces — it's worth it," she said.