Thanksgiving dinners delivered to thousands of Bakersfield needy

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) -- Thousands of volunteers made sure needy people in Bakersfield got a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. In this case, the food was delivered to struggling families. Organizers say they had enough food for up to 40,000 people.

By 9 a.m. Thursday, volunteers pushed shopping carts along long tables set out in the Costco parking lot on Rosedale Avenue, with "shopping lists" in hand.

"These people are going to be delivering the food to different families," volunteer Karen Olsen explained. "So they have shopping carts, and they just come down the row and shop for the different items." The items included dressing, rolls, yams, pies, and lots of prepared turkey.

"We got some 2,000 turkeys, and we've got 13 churches that have joined together to take care of Bakersfield," volunteer Les Pearsey said. He was the turkey guy, and he's been working on the project for months.

Organizers call it "Love for Thanksgiving," and Pearsey says it's important that the church volunteers take the dinners to people.

"We want to develop relationships, we don't want a 'one and done.'" Pearsey said. "If we get to go to their house, we get to meet them, we get to maybe fulfill their needs on-going. And, that's the goal."

"It's exciting, made Thanksgiving completely different," volunteer Lauriana Dooley told Eyewitness News. Her family was set to deliver meals to three families. "We've called them already, and so we're going to be taking it to them, they live downtown," she said.

Lori Chambless was also pushing a shopping cart along a table, filling it with the needs for several families' dinners. "I just think it's awesome, and it makes me feel good," she said. "But more importantly, it's going to make them feel good. And hopefully, God gets the glory for all of it."

Pearsey said each church takes on duties for part of the meal, whether that's the dressing or potatoes. And it's a lot of food. He's not sure how many potatoes, he could only say "a lot." But, he was sure of the pie count: 2,000.

There were also the 2,000 turkeys. "Eight hundred of them were delivered frozen," Pearsey explained. "And today, everyone's picking up cooked ones."

Pearsey and his group cooked the birds for 12 hours in deep pits. Volunteers also make donations to pay for all the food. "I only know the costs of the turkeys," Pearsey said. "Cost us right about $70,000 for all the turkeys."

By about 10:00 on Thursday morning, some of the volunteers were already making deliveries. That included pans of food driven up to the 100 block of Beardsley Avenue in Oildale, where the Church Without Walls had tables set out, ready to serve the dinners.

A batch of volunteers unloaded trays, and in minutes - a line of people showed up for the food.

"I'm on Social Security, I just get a check once a month, and this helps a lot," Russ Stumbaugh said. He had white foam containers with turkey, potatoes, dressing and pie. He carried the food off with him.

A woman and several young boys were among the first to get food. The kids immediately sat down to eat, and one started with the pumpkin pie.

This is the fifth year for Love for Thanksgiving. Organizers say it's grown each time. The first year they cooked 50 turkeys, and last year it was over 1,200 birds plus four thousand pounds each of potatoes and yams. They fed about 20,000 people last year, and hoped for the 40,000 this time.

By mid-afternoon, organizer Brandon Smith told Eyewitness News they had ended up with a total of 2,300 turkeys for the dinners, and even bought another 60 hams to make sure there was enough. He gives a lot of credit to the hours volunteers put into efforts like peeling and cooking mountains of potatoes.

The group says they get lists of under-privileged families from various local organizations and school districts.

Karen Olsen had spent the morning handing out potatoes. "The turnout is amazing," she said. "All the families that are getting food is just amazing. And, it's just fun."

Pearsey said it's what he feels called to do.

"Because I love the Lord, that's all I can tell you," he said. "And He calls us to take care of the widows, and orphans and the needy -- and that's what we're trying to do. Everyone's doing that, not just me."