OAKLAND (CBS SF) — It was a milestone that almost didn’t happen, but thanks to an angel investor, the 20th annual Thanksgiving dinner in Oakland was able to serve thousands of hungry community members.
The dinner—which is put on through a partnership among Oakland’s Department of Human Services, the Community Action Partnership and the Emergency Food Providers Advisory Committee—is free and open to all low-income or homeless seniors, families and individuals.
The event was thousands of dollars short and nearly had to be canceled, Dana Perez-St. Denis, of the Department of Human Services, said.
“Our coffers were low,” she said. “It was devastating to us.”
That was, until Golden State Warrior Dorell Wright and his D Wright Way Foundation stepped forward and pledged money that helped attract other donations.
“If it weren’t for him, we would not have had the dinner this year,” she said.
Wright, speaking to the room of diners at the Downtown Marriott Oakland City Center Tuesday afternoon, said that he was honored to sponsor the dinner.
“It’s truly a blessing to be a part of this for the 20th anniversary,” he said. “It’s something special.”
Last year more than 2,500 people were served, and Perez-St. Denis said that they expected to feed at least that many people this year.
Tables were being continuously set, seated, served, cleared, and reset by volunteers as people steadily streamed in from the line that stretched down 10th Street.
Identified by their sponsor-filled white T-shirts, volunteers moved in all directions. Hotel General Manager John Mazzoni said that, in all, more than 400 volunteers, staff, and community members came together to work Tuesday’s event.
“It takes a village to put an event like this on,” Mazzoni said.
Behind the scenes, an elementary-school aged boy ladled a bright red liquid into pitchers, which would eventually be poured into individual cups, at least 350 of which lined service racks in the staging area.
On the far wall, nine folding tables held hundreds of individual green salads, and the smell of white bread—lifting from the identical dinner rolls awaiting diners—wafted through the air.
Trays of pumpkin pie, dressed with whipped cream, rounded out the holiday fare, along with the turkey, vegetable and mashed potatoes entrees.
Mayor Jean Quan, who spoke to the crowd at about noon, said that the dinner was emblematic of the spirit of the city.
“This is a city that is tough and can recover, whether it is the earthquake, the fire, or the recession,” she said referring to the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and 1991 East Bay Hills Fire, both of which devastated the city’s landscape and its economy.
“I am very proud to be the mayor of this big city with a big heart,” Quan said.
Susan Shelton, manager of community housing services for the Department of Human Services, said that Wright and his girlfriend Mia Lee, who event organizers said played a key role in the event planning, were role models for the community.
“These are the examples that our young people are encouraged to set,” Shelton said, drawing a round of applause from the crowd.
Wright could hardly walk 5 feet in the room without being offered a handshake or asked to pose for a picture, which he graciously obliged.
“This event, it means a lot to myself, my family, my friends,” he said.
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