‘Life as a potluck’: Berkeley holds community dinners during Thanksgiving

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Forty-five frozen turkeys, along with the trimmings, were donated by Cal Dining to student families in University Village for this year’s Thanksgiving holiday.

In addition to the turkey and a box of produce, the families received $40 grocery store gift cards provided by the UCPD police officers’ union, University Village management and UCPD, according to a press release. A group of UCPD officers, Cal Dining staff, housing managers and campus administrators delivered the donations Nov. 16.

Community organizations in Berkeley — including the UC Berkeley Food Pantry and Lake Merritt United Methodist Church — organized community meals on Thanksgiving. Campus provided a list of places to find affordable food for students staying on campus for Thanksgiving break.

“Think of life as a potluck. If one person brings food for 10, there’s suddenly food for 100,” said Refuge, who goes by the name Cuco, has been homeless for 28 years and lives in a van by People’s Park.

According to campus spokesperson Adam Ratliff, the UC Berkeley Division of Student Affairs partnered with the Graduate Hotel and Henry’s to host the third annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner for more than 400 campus students and their families who were unable to travel home for the holiday.

Several churches held free Thanksgiving meals — Lake Merritt United Methodist Church offered a community meal, and the Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley served a special Thanksgiving meal in conjunction with the Berkeley Food and Housing Project.

“People come away satisfied — at least for the moment. They all leave with full bellies,” said Pastor Cary Bass-Deschênes of the Lutheran Church of the Cross.

UC Berkeley Food Pantry also held its first fall community dinner for students who stayed on campus over Thanksgiving break. About 100 students and staff ate and shared stories over traditional fall foods, such as turkey and pie.

“We envisioned it as a community-building event — it’s not often that people can get together, share a meal and share stories,” said Stella Zhu, UC Berkeley Food Pantry coordinator and campus senior.

Zhu said it was great that many campus staff members, in addition to students, were able to join the dinner after their shifts.

To organize the meal, the UC Berkeley Food Pantry worked with Berkeley Hillel for the location, a local sandwich shop Pinky and Red’s for food and the Cal Student Store for funding, according to Zhu.

Zhu added that the UC Berkeley Food Pantry was open every day for students staying on campus over Thanksgiving break who needed additional resources.

Last year, homeless advocate Guy “Mike” Lee organized Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for the homeless community at his home. Homeless people from five encampments in Berkeley and North Oakland attended the Thanksgiving dinner.

Although he did not host a dinner this year, Lee spent Thanksgiving with homeless individuals at an encampment in Berkeley. Homeless individuals faced vulnerability during the holiday because of the rain damaging their shelters in an encampment, according to Lee’s Facebook post.

The Berkeley Food Pantry — which provides emergency groceries to people in Berkeley and Albany  — offered Thanksgiving ingredients in addition to typical fare during the holiday season.

The city’s pantry made a special order of turkey legs, cranberry sauce, stuffing and butter for mashed potatoes. These ingredients provided people the opportunity and access to make a traditional holiday meal, according to Dharma Galang, pantry director at Berkeley Food Pantry.

“During the holidays, we get a lot more thank-you’s,” said Galang. “It decreases people’s stress. They know that they can get emergency foods and something extra on top of it so they don’t have to worry about the extra bill in January.”

Contact Alexandra Casey at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @acasey_dc.