It was just 2 a.m. when the lights of the New Porterville Rescue Mission's kitchen came on and a flurry of activity began as residents, staff and volunteers continued with the roasting and baking of eight large turkeys.
“We were here last night from 6 to 9 p.m., prepping and getting things ready,” said Pastor Esther Ramirez. “In the past we've delivered more than 400 meals but last year, and this year, because of COVID, we're shooting for 150.”
Ramirez said she has been doing the Thanksgiving meal at the Mission for the past 10 years and expressed gratitude to the numerous donors who donated the turkeys and meal products.
“It's beautiful – the donations. We are taking these to trailer parks, thanks to donations,” she said and listed several individuals and companies. “And Black Bear Diner provided the pumpkin pies.”
The meal consists of all the traditional fixings, including mashed potatoes, green beans, stuffing and the pies, she said.
“We also give away whole turkeys to families,” she said. “They've been coming here for five years and are always so thankful. It's a Thanksgiving supper for them. We make this happen.”
As she talked, a team of volunteers were busy stirring food and plating into disposable covered containers.
“This means everything to me to help,” said Jennifer Burtram. “It brings me joy and peace.”
Christina Del Toro agreed, saying it also offers comfort and hope.
Outside, Johnny Ramirez could be seen directing the volunteers on how many plates to place in the vehicles and assigning drop off locations to them.
“It means a lot to me to be able to help,” Johnny Ramirez said. “They need and appreciate it. The first time I went knocking on the doors and saw when they opened the doors, they didn't have anything. The kids would come out and you could see on their face, they were so excited and happy.”
Because of that, over the years, he said, he has kept volunteering to go out.
“I really love doing this,” Johnny Ramirez said.
Volunteer Nick Pena said he loves it too.
“When I was in the streets, I always took and took. Now I'm giving back,” Pena said. “I'm putting my heart into it. My life has changed in so many ways and it is gratifying seeing people out there and letting them know people care in this community.”
Jeremy Burrough, a volunteer and resident said he helps with the cooking.
“I came here expecting the worst,” he said about his initial arrival four years ago at the mission. “I had a tent and a sleeping bag. Nothing more. Now this place means so much to me. I can't say enough about it. I had never read the Bible before and now everyone notices a big change in me.”
Another volunteer, Roy Loveall, said he arrived at the program years ago after a DUI.
“I never drank again. I've been on the straight and narrow road for twelve years now.”
He finished the program two years ago, said Pastor Esther Ramirez, but she still sees him daily.
“He comes here every single day and helps us. He transports people to doctor appointments, pays bills, and is always doing something.”
Loveall suddenly jumped up and started helping with the loading of Thanksgiving meals onto trucks and other vehicles.
“We'll be hitting trailer parks and a few other places,” Pastor Ramirez said. “They'll go out and I'll stay here overseeing the kitchen and cleaning with the rest of the volunteers.”