On the streets of Los Angeles, life is harsh for the thousands of homeless residents who camp on the sidewalks. In the shadow of office towers, tent cities line the concrete on street after street in the neighborhood called Skid Row.
Inside the Los Angeles Mission, a Christian charity, workers and volunteers in an industrial scale kitchen prepare for the Thanksgiving holiday. On a recent morning, the volunteers came from Wells Fargo, a financial services company.
Pies were being readied and stored for the big day.
“We are preparing for our Thanksgiving meal,” explained cook Kiesha Matthews. “Today we’re making sweet potato pies from scratch. We’re making our crust from scratch, as well as the filling.”
Kitchen staff and volunteers knead and roll the dough, then trim it in the pie pans, preparing 600 pies, dessert for 4,000 homeless and low-income residents who are expected to come for turkey and traditional holiday dishes. The meal is served at this mission the day before Thanksgiving, while other holiday meals throughout this neighborhood are served Thanksgiving Day.
Volunteer Juliette Shu, a banker, is helping crumble cornbread for the turkey stuffing and says she’s happy “to support the community and get a chance to work with others and help others. I’m glad to be here today,” she said.
Jay Hong, another full time banker, now a part-time kitchen worker, is also happy to pitch in. “And give back a little bit, right? Yeah, this is great,” he said. “I’m glad we could do this.”
The chef overseeing the kitchen understands homelessness. He spent five years on the streets himself.
“At the time that I became homeless,” explained Erik Grant, “there was the housing market crash, there were a lot of things going on,” he said. “I went through a divorce. I just made some poor decisions,” he recalls.
The numbers reflected in the annual homeless count are getting a little better. Los Angeles County had more than 52,000 homeless residents, according to figures released May 31. That’s a four percent decrease this year, which officials attribute to programs to get the homeless into housing. The city of Los Angeles had a six percent decrease in homelessness, but officials warn that there ’s a crisis throughout the region with a lack of affordable housing.
The Los Angeles Mission is one of a number of private charities that helps to fill the gap, providing hot meals, counseling and shelter for those who need to turn their lives around, help needed every day, especially at Thanksgiving.