By Eliot Brody
This article was updated on Nov. 30 with reporting on the free Thanksgiving dinners provided by Dave’s Chillin and Grillin and the The Frateral Order of the Eagles.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday 2020, volunteers in Northeast Los Angeles arranged to serve holiday turkey dinners to hundreds of elderly residents in the area.
One of the efforts involved three holiday meals over two days for some 155 senior citizens in two local affordable-housing apartment buildings: Tres Lomas Garden Apartments on Toland Way, near the border of Eagle Rock and Glassell Park, and Reflections on Yosemite Drive.
These meals were a collaborative enterprise among two community leaders — Margaret Irwin, the elder director on the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council (ERNC) and Helene Schpak, president of the Glassell Park Improvement Association (GPIA) — and two City Council districts, CD 1 and CD 14.
For the dinners at Tres Lomas and Reflections, the Eagle Rock Kitchen in Eagle Rock and Lemon Poppy Kitchen in Glassell Park prepared the meals with funding by CD 1. The restaurants also individually packaged the meals, which were then delivered to residents of the two buildings.
The 55 seniors at Tres Lomas, who range in age from early 70s to 96, received the first of the Thanksgiving meals Nov. 19. To the delight of the building’s many Filipino residents, the meal consisted of Filipino dishes lumpia and pancit, prepared by Eagle Rock Kitchen, which specializes in Filipino comfort food. The dinner also included apple pie from Sprouts Farmers Market.
On Nov. 24, traditional Thanksgiving meals prepared by Lemon Poppy Kitchen and including pumpkin pie from Sprouts were served to the residents at Tres Lomas and to the 100 residents at Reflections on Yosemite.
Those meals were only the start, using up eight of 25 turkeys donated to Eagle Rock and Glassell Park by CD 14 City Councilmember Kevin de Leon. To turn the remaining turkeys into full meals, Irwin enlisted the help of two Eagle Rockers: Ghaz Bazrafshan, the owner of Dave’s Chillin N Grillin, and Dale Grace, President of The Fraternal Order of the Eagles (also known as The Eagle), a local club that has sponsored a free Thanksgiving dinner for community members in need for the past 30 years.
Bazrafshan’s original idea was to offer senior citizens a $10 Thanksgiving special, including the turkey and all the sides — rosemary stuffing, roasted garlic mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, green beans and carrots, a baguette and pumpkin cheesecake. But when she posted about the special on the Facebook page of the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Group, donations began to pour in from residents so that Bazrafshan could provide the meals for free. In the end, 75 seniors received a Thanksgiving dinner and not a single one had to pay. There was even free delivery for seniors who could not pick up their meals, thanks to volunteers Danielle Sibley and Akeime Mitterlehner, who was assisted by her husband Martin and daughter Mara.
“It just kind of took off,” Bazrafshan said. “And we ended up getting about $750 in donations.”
Meanwhile, over at the Eagle, Grace added eight turkeys from Irwin to the 35 turkeys the club was already preparing for its annual Thanksgiving dinner. This year, the club adjusted its usual banquet style dinner to pick-up with to-go boxes, serving some 240 meals.
“There were a lot of seniors there, a lot of people just are down and out this year,” said Grace. “There were families, there were a lot of younger people, people around the neighborhood, you know, just people on the streets and they need somewhere to go.”
The final two turkeys were distributed by Schpak of the GPIA to low-income families in Glassell Park.
“There are seniors who have lived in Eagle Rock for decades, they’re no longer in the workforce, they may not have family,” Irwin said. “And those are the people who I, as the Elder Director, am trying to reach. I want to reach the people who have been here in our community for decades and are living on just their Social Security. And, you know, they do need a treat like a Thanksgiving lunch.”
Irwin also prepared care packages to enclose with the meals, including medical masks provided by CD-14, water bottles provided by the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council, and socks and soaps provided by Natashka Jones, the services coordinator at Tres Lomas. Jones and her counterpart at Reflections on Yosemite, Lily Campos, were central to the success of the Thanksgiving meal deliveries at the apartment buildings, said Irwin, because they ensure that all of the precautionary measures are followed to avoid the spread of COVID-19. These efforts include delivering food to seniors who are unable to leave their rooms.
Jones said these meals mean a lot to the seniors.
“Because of the pandemic, they assumed that we were going to cut services, and we didn’t — we kept going full throttle,” Jones said, before pausing to collect her emotions. “For some of the seniors, this might be the only [Thanksgiving] meal they have — some of them don’t have families.”
Conrado TerrazasCross, communications director for Councilmember Gil Cedillo in CD 1, echoed the importance of food distribution, saying it has been a top priority for Cedillo since the start of the pandemic. Early on, CD 1 selected 25 restaurants, including Lemon Poppy Kitchen, from which the office has bought meals for vulnerable populations.
The benefit of the approach is twofold, said TerrazasCross. “We provided much-needed nourishment to families but also gave support to frontline workers at these restaurants,” he said.
Sarah Flaherty, spokesperson for Kevin de Leon, stressed the need in the broader 14th council district, noting that the office had provided thousands of turkeys to the area as a whole.
Schpak said the importance of feeding seniors continues to grow as COVID infections rise in L.A.
“We’re entering one of the worst phases of this pandemic right now,” Schpak said. “And we really need to support and reinforce the need for these people to remain as contained in their own bubble and safe as possible. And to do that, we need to help them stay home.”
Schpak feels hopeful that the community, working together, can keep local senior citizens safe. When the pandemic struck, she, Irwin and other volunteers made food deliveries to more than 100 homebound seniors in NELA, while working to enroll them in a daily meal program provided by the City’s Department of Aging.
As Thanksgiving neared, with its emphasis on food and togetherness, meal deliveries were a natural — and needed – way to reach out. “It could almost bring me to tears to see how much people really care and want to try to help their neighbors in the community,” Schpak said.
Eliot Brody, a senior at Occidental College, is a participant in the NELA Neighborhood Reporting Partnership, a collaboration between the Boulevard Sentinel and The Occidental campus newspaper.
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