Helping Hands delivers meals
Volunteers also took dinners to homeless
Smiles and thanks were the two things people living in East Porterville and on the banks of the Tule River offered when full Thanksgiving meals were delivered to them Thursday.
The boxed meals, which came out of Helping Hands, a community service organization that feeds the homeless and the hungry, included everything a Thanksgiving meal should have — turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, sweet yams, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and a soda pop drink.
“This is very sweet,” said Phyllis Sousa from her small, makeshift home in East Porterville as she accepted a boxed meal. “We were not expecting this. This is wonderful.”
Approximately 20 individuals live in the impoverished camp site area, but most had gone into town in search of a meal said Daniel Eady, who helped Porterville Councilman Greg Shelton deliver the meals. The two men moved between small trailers, tents and makeshift homes — some consisting of nothing more than tarps, plastic or blankets draped over branches — through East Porterville and the river banks, offering meals to the few residents who had not stepped away from their homes.
One of the stops was Eady’s home on the banks of the Tule River in East Porterville.
“On warm days like this, many of them go into town. They gotta eat,” Eady said as he called out at several makeshift homes but received no response. “The number varies, but I would say there’s about 20 people out here. I’ve been here for six years now — living up and down on the river.”
Eady, who was originally from Santa Monica, said he used to race cars at Rocky Hill Speedway.
“We were in the wrecking business and then the recycling business,” he said. “But, then my dad died and everything kind of fell apart and now, here I am, living at the river.”
He was not the only one in such a predicament.
John Lawery also lived on the banks of the river, along with his sweetheart and two dogs.
Lawery said he went from having a job at a local business to living at the river within a month’s time.
Though he’s worked at casinos, carnivals and many miscellaneous places, a shattered tibia bone in his leg, along with nine pins, has kept him from finding any additional work.
Not knowing that Helping Hands was offering a free meal, Lawery said he went to a local market with his sign — asking for food, clothing and water for himself and the homeless.
“They kicked me out. They said I was pan handling,” he said. “I was not. This sign says nothing about money. I was asking for food and water. It’s Thanksgiving.”
The couple accepted two boxed meals and the woman, who did not want to be identified, cried and said she missed her family. She also said she spent her last $3 to buy some chicken and was planning on cooking a chicken fajita meal for her river-bank neighbors, because, she said, “It’s Thanksgiving.”
“The thing is, I grew up with a lot of these guys. We all knew each other. Back in the ‘80s, we’d hang out,” Shelton said. “We went separate ways. Some of us made it. Some of us didn’t. There, but for the grace of God, I go. That could have been any one of us.”
Shelton and Eady greeted each person with a smile, a handshake or a hug.
But they were not the only ones helping out — over at Helping Hands, another 40 to 45 volunteers worked.
High school students painted children’s faces and offered them small toys as they waited for the doors to open Thursday.
The long line snaked around the corner as hundreds of residents waited for a Thanksgiving meal. First in line was Vickie Sullivan of Porterville.
“I do think its neat that they have this for us. They cater a lot to the homeless,” she said.
At the end of the long line, Vietnam War veteran Dennis Smith also waited.
“I eat at the Community Center three times a week but I like coming out here because of the children. They are so sweet to watch,” he said. “I will enjoy a Thanksgiving meal here and then head over to spend time and visit at the Santa Fe Plaza.”
As the doors open, dozens of volunteers greeted the people.
Among the helpers was the Blocher family — Jacob and Brianna Blocher from Harmony Magnet, their brother Garret Blocher, a student at CalPoly, San Luis Obispo, and their mother, Belinda Blocher.
“We’re been helping out at the Grand Avenue Methodist Church for eight years,” she said.
“When we heard they were not having [the Thanksgiving meal] this year, we decided to help here.”
Also helping out were Porterville High School Link Crew members Adriana Gutierrez, Jenna Duran, Justin Duran, and the Duran’s brother, Victor — all were first-time volunteers.
“I thought it would be a good experience,” Jenna Duran said. “I’m thankful for everything and I wanted to make a difference and give back to my community.”
In the kitchen, more volunteers served plates heaping with hot food — among them was Porterville Mayor Virginia Gurrola, who rolled up her sleeves and donned an apron to help. Former City Councilman Kelley West also helped.
“The cooks arrived about 6 a.m., the helpers around 8 a.m. and all the other volunteers were all here by 10 a.m.,” said Mike Chambers, president of Helping Hands. “We have 42 volunteers this year, compared to 20 last year.”
The dining hall, which holds 125, will be filled at least four or five times through the day, Chambers said.
“We’re expecting and prepared to feed between 500 and 600,” he said. “It’s a little slower than we were expecting but then again, in a few minutes, we don’t know what we can expect. Sometimes our line is two blocks long and other times, they come in spurts. But, we have enough to feed 500 easily.”
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.