Hollywood celebrities and other volunteers have taken the traditional American holiday of Thanksgiving to the people of Skid Row in Los Angeles, a section of the city where the homeless congregate. The Thanksgiving dinner had a special theme this year.
The annual event is sponsored the Los Angeles Mission, a Christian charity that feeds homeless men and families throughout the year. Forty-five hundred people were given traditional Thanksgiving dinners of roast turkey, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce. Among those who served the meals was former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan.
"For a city to be great, people have to care for other people, particularly people in need," he said. "And I think today in Los Angeles shows that the Angelenos like myself who are very fortunate in life are willing to give to others."
Television actress Melissa Joan Hart was also helping out, together with hundreds of volunteers from the community.
"We're actually on clean up duty, me and my family, my boyfriend," she explained. "We're going to be cleaning up and making sure the tables are clean by the time the next set up people come in and sit down to eat."
People ate in shifts, several hundred at a time. One of those who came for the meal was 44-year-old Bruce Snider. He has lived on the streets of Los Angeles for 11 years, after being released from jail on drug possession charges. He says he is unable to work, and finds it hard to live on the single daily meal he receives from the mission. But he says he believes in God and is taking time to thank him.
"I'm thankful that I woke up this morning, that he lets me wake up this morning. I'm thankful that he has provided me with something to eat. I am thankful for the clothes that I have, I know was because of him," Mr. Snider said.
Marshall McNott is president of the mission, and he says Thanksgiving this year is special. He says the tragic events of September 11, a date now commonly spoken of simply as "9-11," have led to a sense of compassion in the country. Thousands of people lost their lives in terror attacks that day.
"I think we're more compassionate, not only with the victims of 9-11, but as well our own communities," he said. "The negative impact is that the Los Angeles Mission's charitable giving is down about 25 percent. A lot of people are giving to organizations helping the victims of 9-11, and appropriately so, but we're asking the folks to remember the local charities as well, such as the Los Angeles Mission."
Congressman David Dreier is also helping feed the homeless this Thanksgiving. He says food charities in the inner city are more important today, as the United States experiences an economic downturn. The congressman says the need is being felt in cities around the country.
"So much attention has been focused on, understandably, New York and the Washington area, where I'm privileged to serve, but there are pressing needs all over the country, and we're faced with economic challenges," said Congressman Dreier. " In light of that, the work of the Los Angeles Mission is more important than ever."
Officials at the mission say the level of need will only increase unless the United States makes a full economic recovery.
The Thanksgiving event in Los Angeles was part of a national effort by 270 rescue missions, which are serving 275,000 meals to the homeless this week.