Thanksgiving is the time of year when Americans nationwide make their biggest effort to help the less fortunate with food drives and volunteering at food service events. In Pasadena, Union Station Homeless Services has been hosting free Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners in Central Park for the past 45 years and will turn out in force again next Thursday for the holiday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the park, located at 412 S. Raymond Avenue in Pasadena.
The owners of the Pasadena Sandwich Company will also be joining the effort to make the day special by offering their 5th Annual Thanksgiving Share-A-Meal on Nov. 24. That event will feed 350 people in families referred by the Pasadena Unified School District’s (PUSD) Families in Transition Program, with the list already selected. The Pasadena Fire Department and Remainders Creative Reuse also team up to assist at the Share-A-Meal, with the Sydney Paige Inc. backpack company providing backpacks for the students who participate.
Yet Meghan Fink, who owns the longtime Pasadena dining establishment with other family members, could use help from the public for two other events: a canned food drive at two Smart & Final store locations on Saturday and Sunday, and a blood drive on Tuesday. For the canned food drive, people can go to the stores — located at 401 N. Fair Oaks Ave. and 3299 E. Colorado Blvd. — and donate $5 to pay for a bag filled with nonperishable food items designed to feed a family of five, which will then be distributed through the PUSD food bank.
The blood drive will take place from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, when Huntington Hospital sends a collection van to the PSC parking lot, located at 259 Sierra Madre Villa Ave. in Pasadena. Those wishing to make an appointment for their donation session can call Ida Diaz at Huntington Hospital at (626)676-3035.
“We have blood drives throughout the year, and this one just happened to be in the same time frame as Thanksgiving, which is a great time for people to give back,” said Fink. “We also have a collection plate at the restaurant where people can bring canned foods, other nonperishable food, and items like laundry detergent, flashlights and blankets.”
Indeed, the Share-A-Meal organizers are inviting people to donate funds as well as food in the form of turkeys, pies and beverages. Paper goods such as napkins and plates are also requested, along with gift certificates.
The PSC event breaks the usual format of free Thanksgiving meals by enabling its attendees to sit down for full wait staff service rather than standing in line to receive a plate of food. Families are seated and served by volunteers, and also get to enjoy the chance to shoot free family portraits. In addition, the family’s foundation provides families with “blessing bags” containing necessities such as shampoo, conditioner, detergent, toothbrushes, toothpaste and hygiene products, and donates gift certificates from Target and local restaurants.
The PSC is asking for volunteers to come to the restaurant from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday to help fill the bags. Volunteers can sign up to help at the program’s website, pasadenashareameal.com.
The Share-A-Meal program started in tribute to Fink’s father, who died of amyloidosis in 2010 but had long hosted an informal potluck dinner for friends who had no family to share a meal with on the holiday. Those dinners were held every other year, whenever he didn’t have custody of his four children on that day, and his offspring not only established the Stephen E. Fink Memorial Fund in his honor, but also set up the other events and started working with a bone marrow registry.
Pasadena Firefighter Steven Lawhorn provided the Fink family with the idea to create the Share-A-Meal program when he visited them shortly after Stephen Fink’s death. He had often participated in the informal Thanksgiving meals at the restaurant and felt that the program would be a key part of keeping Fink’s legacy alive.
“I went back to the family and said, ‘This is what your dad used to do. What are you going to do?’” said Lawhorn of the program, which has grown to have nearly 70 sponsors. “We formed the program in collaboration with the PUSD program and dedicated it to feeding homeless families and getting them out of the harsher feeding programs like Central Park and giving them a safer environment to have a nice hot meal and sit down.”
Lawhorn noted that while Share-A-Meal organizers have 350 attendees already set, they always strive to cook for more people to help accommodate some walk-ups. He said that they estimate up to 65 people can be served on a first-come, first-serve basis this year between the hours of 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
“My father realized a lot of people are alone and said no one should be alone on Thanksgiving,” said Fink. “He’d open the doors of the restaurant and people would bring things and they’d have a big group meal. He passed away six years ago, so we started this in his name because he was such a giving spirit and we want to help people and remind them they don’t have to be alone on Thanksgiving. They can find a safe place to go and be supported.”
The 5th Annual Thanksgiving Share-A-Meal event takes place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. next Thursday, Nov. 24, at the Pasadena Sandwich Company, 259 Sierra Madre Villa Ave., Pasadena. Visit pasadenashareameal.com.
The 45th Annual Dinner in the Park takes place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. next Thursday, Nov. 24, at Pasadena Central Park, 412 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena. Visit unionstationhs.org for more info and how to donate.