Union Station Homeless Services Readies for This Year’s Poignant Thanksgiving Dinner in the Park

Published : Sunday, November 24, 2019 | 12:29 PM

Rabbi Marvin Gross seen at the 2016 "Dinner in the Park."

For nearly 50 years, Union Station Homeless Services has hosted the Thanksgiving Day Dinner in the Park for those in need, but this year the event a vital ingredient will be missing.

Former Union Station Homeless Services CEO Rabbi Marvin Gross, who presided over decades of the Dinners, passed away Nov. 6. This Thanksgiving will be the first Dinner in the Park without him.

“Rabbi Marvin Gross joined Union Station in 1995 and took the agency through a remarkable period of growth,” said Dana Bean, senior director of development and communications for Union Station. “We will mention him in the program and pay tribute to him at Dinner in the Park.”

The purpose of Dinner in the Park is to bring members of the community together in the spirit of giving to share holiday cheer and food for those who otherwise might spend the day hungry and alone.

The site is Pasadena’s Central Park, at 275 South Raymond Avenue.

Among those being served will be homeless individuals and families experiencing poverty, senior citizens and those who are alone for Thanksgiving.

It’s a true community event that has become a city and family tradition

“We’re tasked with cooking 300 turkeys for this event and while we do have a wonderful kitchen, it would be impossible for us to cook all those turkeys,” said Bean. She’s been with the organization for more than 13 years and in that time she has seen great community involvement.


Thanksgiving Dinner in the Park a Team Effort

It’s a Team Pasadena effort.

“The Pasadena Convention Center plays a huge role,” Bean said. “We would not be able to put on this event without them.”

Centerplate, the caterer for the Pasadena Convention Center, cooks the turkeys for Dinner in the Park.

Many of the turkeys are donated by members of the Pasadena community. The public can deliver turkeys to Union Station, where they are stored. The week of Thanksgiving, Union Station staff and volunteers deliver the turkeys to Centerplate where the chefs cook them.

“In the spirit of giving and wanting to help those in need this holiday season, especially within our local community, Centerplate is proud to partner with Union Station Homeless Services for their Dinner in the Park Thanksgiving Day meal,” said Doug Finney, District Manager of Centerplate at the Pasadena Convention Center.

“With this being our sixth year donating, and prepping over 300 turkeys, we truly enjoy being able to help feed hundreds of individuals and families who may not always have access to a warm meal.”

There are people involved on “every imaginable level,” Bean said.

On Thanksgiving Day the volunteers arrive at 11 a.m., the program starts at 11:50, and elected officials and Union Station CEO Ann Miskey will speak. Then, everyone will line up for lunch, which is served at noon. Typically by 1:30 or 2 p.m. the cleanup efforts begin.

Volunteer servers will be offering food and the guests line up on the other side.

On the menu: Turkey, mashed potatoes and this year macaroni and cheese and green bean casserole and corn and all the toppings cranberry and gravy.

City officials come, too. Mayor Terry Tornek always addresses the crowd, and other dignitaries volunteer and help as well.


Union Station Facing Challenges in its Fight Against Homelessness

The grass-roots, volunteer-based group does have its challenges to face.

“One of the challenges is the changing face of homelessness,” Bean said. “When I came here almost 14 years ago we were seeing a population that was predominantly male and older. Today we’re seeing that anybody can fall into homelessness for such a large spectrum of reasons. The main reason is that people just can’t afford housing any more.”

“We’ve seen that housing prices have continued to increase year over year and salaries have not,” she said. “We continue to see people who never expected to find themselves without housing are homeless. We’ve seen two-parent households with both parents working where once they get evicted they can’t get back into the rental market.”

“We’re also seeing a growing population where folks who are experiencing homelessness who are living in bridge housing or at a motel or in a shelter, they’re ready to move into an apartment with a voucher in hand, but we can’t find an apartment willing to accept a voucher,” Bean said.

“Landlords and apartment owners are reluctant to accept vouchers,” she said. “Either because of unfair stigmas and also because not understanding how the voucher works. The vouchers come with an array of services. Once someone moves into an apartment, we continue to support them and make sure they’re well integrated into the community and that they’re great neighbors. I don’t think the landlords understand the win-win.”

“There’s always risks when you accept tenants onto your property but having this voucher really mitigates risk, their rent is paid on time, it’s guaranteed, and there’s Union Station staff to help mitigate risks.”

In addition to providing a meal this year, Union Station will also be doing in-take screenings if people want to look into community resources. With its Thanksgiving Dinner in the Park, Union Station is making the community aware that its mission is to help.

“I would advise those who are concerned to learn what resources might be available to them,” Bean said. “We’re honored to be able to do this work.”

If you are interested in volunteering to help with Dinner in the Park, click here for information.

If you like to donate food, click here for information.