Gratitude the centerpiece of Thanksgiving in San Jose
David Mott, director of operations at Loaves & Fishes, unloads hot food from the nonprofit's delivery van while volunteers pack the food into bags on Thanksgiving. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

“Happy Thanksgiving, God bless, and let’s eat!” a man declared before a line of people waiting for food.

“Amen!” they shouted in response.

Hundreds of people lined up on Thanksgiving Day to receive food from local nonprofits during a year that’s left residents reeling from a global pandemic, restrictive health orders and economic fallout.

“We don’t have much, but we want to give thanks,” said Raul Gonzalez, who came to the CityTeam center off of Oakland Road in San Jose for a holiday meal. He said he lives in a tent outside and regularly comes to the center for food.

“If it wasn’t for these people, we wouldn’t be eating,” Gonzalez said.

Raul Gonzalez stands outside CityTeam’s center off of Oakland Road in San Jose after receiving his Thanksgiving meal. Photo by Sonya Herrera

CityTeam was one of several groups who distributed meals for the Thanksgiving holiday in San Jose. The nonprofit serves Thanksgiving meals every year, but this year meals were packed up and ready for takeout due to COVID-19.

The Thanksgiving meal at CityTeam contained hot and freshly-prepared turkey, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, stuffing, vegetables and dinner rolls, according to CityTeam’s chef Reynolds Stewart. Residents also had the option to take home apple and sweet potato pie, along with a hygiene kit containing socks, hats and other items.

Stewart the group would normally serve between 700 to 800 people on Thanksgiving. But this year, Stewart expected closer to 300 to 400 people because they would be unable to eat inside.

“We wanted to figure out how to serve people while being in compliance with Santa Clara County,” Stewart said.

Chef Reynolds Stewart overlooks the preparation of Thanksgiving meals in the CityTeam kitchen in San Jose. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

Erich Von Shultz said he lives in a homeless encampment near the railroad tracks in San Jose. Von Shultz said his neighbors and CityTeam offer a much-needed sense of belonging.

“It keeps you going in times like this,” Von Shultz said. “They hand out a pretty good meal.”

Oscar Martinez, left, and Erich Von Shultz pose after receiving bags of food from CityTeam in San Jose. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

Earlier in the day, more than 20 people lined up to receive a hot meal in the first half-hour of service at the Vietnamese Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

The residents lined up along a “red carpet” rug to receive bags of hot meals prepared by Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen. The meals, bagged after resting on a heated rack in the organization’s delivery van, contained Thanksgiving staples such as turkey, stuffing, yams, green beans and cranberry sauce.

One of those residents was Alex Garcia, who said he usually comes to the church on weekdays to receive hot meals. Garcia, who lives in his truck in San Jose, said the Thanksgiving service was a blessing considering how many services were limited during the pandemic.

“They help out a whole lot of people,” Garcia said. “A whole lot of other places had to scale back.”

Cornelio Chavez, a driver ambassador for Loaves & Fishes Family Kitchen, hands food to Alex Garcia in the parking lot of the Vietnamese Seventh-Day Adventist Church on South Second Street in San Jose on Thanksgiving. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

Jose Peraza, a former graduate student at San Jose State University, said he usually goes to Loaves & Fishes’ distribution point at Goodwill on North Seventh Street to receive meals. He said these services are his only means of acquiring hot meals while unemployed.

Peraza said he’s thankful such programs remain available in San Jose, while residents of other places in the country are not as fortunate.

“Support hasn’t been stopped here in San Jose,” Peraza said. “This is my only way to get a hot meal today.”

Jose Peraza stands with the two bags of food he received at the Loaves & Fishes meal distribution at the Vietnamese Seventh-Day Adventist Church in San Jose on Thanksgiving. Photo by Sonya Herrera.

Pastor Toan Quach, who leads services at the church, said Loaves & Fishes has partnered with them for more than two years to deliver meals to people in need. Loaves & Fishes prepares and delivers the food, while the church covers the facilities and other costs.

The pastor said normally the church would serve hot Thanksgiving meals in indoors, where more than 70 people would dine communally. However, because of the pandemic, his and other food halls are only allowed to serve to-go meals in box lunches.

Quach said his church serves meals Monday through Friday from 4 to 5:30 p.m. — no registration required.

“All are welcome,” Quach said, adding that in the Christian philosophy he and his fellow parishioners embrace, gratitude doesn’t stop at being thankful for one’s blessings.

“Real gratitude means you are a blessing to someone else,” Quach said.

Former graduate student Peraza said given the pandemic and economic uncertainty this year, he isn’t looking too far ahead into the future. But the possibility of a widely-available coronavirus vaccine is a good omen.

“Right now, my only hope and expectation is to see people talk to each other without masks again,” Peraza said.

Quach said Thanksgiving, particularly this year, is a reminder to be grateful for the blessings we enjoy.

“Be thankful,” Quach said. “Sometimes what little you have is someone else’s dream.”

Contact Sonya Herrera at [email protected] or follow @SMHsoftware on Twitter.

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