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A big helping of kindness

Annual Thanksgiving meal for the public is a true community event.

November 21, 2013|By Bryce Alderton
  • Laguna Beach resident Mary LaRusso has helped cook turkeys for the Friendship Shelter's annual Thanksgiving Day meal at the Neighborhood Congregational Church.
Laguna Beach resident Mary LaRusso has helped cook turkeys… (Don Leach, Coastline…)

After 20 years, one would think organizers for a community-wide Thanksgiving Day feast would have a mapped-out agenda replete with detailed instructions and job descriptions.

Au contraire.

Advanced planning is not part of the recipe for this Laguna Beach tradition.

The Friendship Shelter and Neighborhood Congregational Church will once again partner on a Thanksgiving Day meal for the public, beginning at noon at the church at 340 St. Ann's Drive.

Volunteers expect to serve 600 to 700 buffet-style meals, with food and supplies provided by individuals, churches and community groups, a news release said.

Laguna Beach resident David Peck has helped organize volunteers for the annual Thanksgiving potluck for more than 20 years.

"It's slap-dash," Peck, 75, said of the annual meal, which used to be held at Bluebird Park.

Peck chairs the South County Cross-Cultural Council, a Laguna Beach-based civil rights advocacy nonprofit, which used to organize the event.

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Volunteers arrive around 11 a.m., bringing pans full of mashed potatoes, salad and stuffing.

A small array of carvers slice hot turkeys and hams while volunteers set up a display and prepare sack lunches with the leftovers to give to the homeless and needy.

Even the gravy arrives hot.

Mary LaRusso, like Peck, has helped with the meal for at least 20 years and once again will cook some of the turkeys.

LaRusso, 59, used to cook eight birds at a time in the Neighborhood Congregational Church's ovens and transport them to Bluebird Park.

Kids loved the grass area, but cleanup was difficult, said LaRusso, a part-time night supervisor at the Alternative Sleeping Location shelter.

"There was no kitchen to clean up," said LaRusso, a Laguna Beach resident. "We'd have to [walk] to the bathrooms to wash our hands."

About five years ago, it rained on Thanksgiving morning, and organizers moved the meal to the church, where it's remained since, according to LaRusso.

Volunteers like to have at least 25 turkeys and didn't have all they needed, so LaRusso, who attends Neighborhood Congregational Church, recently asked the congregation for donations.

"I said, 'I need eight turkeys,'" LaRusso said. "Four people said I'll [cook] and deliver them, and a few other people chipped in $50 for me to buy the rest of them. Ask and people respond."

LaRusso usually starts thawing turkeys the Sunday before Thanksgiving. She cleans them Wednesday night and arrives at the church at 6:30 a.m. Thursday to cook.

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