ILWU 14th Annual “Feed the Community” Day

Thanksgiving basket labels for this year's 14th Annual "Feed the Community" event.

From a company and individual perspective, we felt honored to witness and be part of the ILWU’s 14th Annual “Feed the Community” event. You often hear about that holiday or Christmas feeling in the air, while Thanksgiving is more often associated with a scent – pumpkin, turkey, mashed potatoes, etc. In Wilmington, although no hot meals were served, there was something better and more personal. You felt Thanksgiving and everyone present carried that sentiment on to their community and home. The sun was out, people were happy and hopeful. Everyone gave thanks and gave back in one way or another.

Thanks to the Longshoremen community, this Thanksgiving will be special for 1500 local families in need. Planning efforts for their annual “Feed the Community” Day began earlier this year, but the real action started Monday morning (November 21). Members and friends of Locals 13, 26, 52, 63, 94, the Women’s Aux #8, So. Cal Pensioners, Local 13 Memorial Association and the Local 63 Memorial Association filled a majority of the ILWU Memorial Hall to share the true sentiment of Thanksgiving – giving back and giving thanks.

ILWU Memorial Hall fills with volunteers and supplies the day prior to the event.

We were in the middle of all the action upon arriving at the hall on Monday. Pallets with produce, grains and other Thanksgiving must-haves filled the front of the hall. The imagery took me back to my days as a grocery store bagger – I felt like I was in the middle of a store warehouse. The smell of cardboard, paper, fresh produce, the busy movement and chit chat as the entire hall embraced it’s own transformation.

Following the food cranes were rows of tables assigned to a person or group. Cardboard screeched and came together to assemble the many Thanksgiving baskets – 1500 in total. In other stations, people placed labels and cut basket liners. Towards the end of the hall, I met some lovely ladies packaging new Beanie Babies for special needs children. In total, 500 toy-filled baggies were packaged.

Then in a matter of a few hours, the huge room strengthened it’s echo as it became empty again – less people, noise and along three walls a quick glimpse of what awaited the community. A tired committee member sat and chatted with a fellow volunteer. It had been a long day but nonetheless, he smiled and waved good-bye as I exited the building. Tomorrow would be a good day.

Hundreds line up along Fries Avenue to receive their Thanksgiving baskets.

The big day arrived and hundreds lined up along Fries Avenue early Tuesday morning. Families, mothers, seniors and many more anxiously waited to receive their Thanksgiving basket, each filled with a whole turkey, produce, stuffing mix, juice and other necessary items for a full Thanksgiving feast. In order to assist the most deserving families in the region, the ILWU event committee required each interested party to complete an application – one per household. Each application was then reviewed and those eligible for a Thanksgiving basket were provided with a voucher.

“This is what it’s all about… stepping up for those in the community. Seeing people eye to eye and letting them know that the ILWU is here for them” stated Bobby Olvera, Vice President of ILWU Local 13.

The side of ILWU Memorial Hall is lined with Thanksgiving baskets, ready for pick-up.

Other event speakers and volunteers included Congresswoman Laura Richardson, Congresswoman Janice Hahn and Assemblymember Bonnie Lowenthal.

Event founder Michael Ponce (Local 63) also attended and shared the story about the event’s early beginnings.

“It was tough times in 1998, so myself and a few individuals decided to get together to help out the community. Originally the idea started with clean-ups at local schools.”

Event Founder, Michael Ponce speaks to the crowd. To the left, the event's coordinator Lisa Tonson listens in.

Michael and group of others took it to another level and promised to organize 500 Thanksgiving baskets for local families in need.

“We wanted to show the community that although we were in a contract time, we weren’t selfish” stated Ponce.

500 was the initial goal and on the day of the first “Feed the Community” event, about 520 people showed up – a little more than expected.

“We ran to the market and bought 20 more turkeys.” In the end, it all worked out and no recipient went home empty-handed.

Ponce is still involved but a few years back, he passed the torch to Lisa Tonson who now oversees the entire event with the help of a committee and the rest of the ILWU community.

“I just want to thank the ILWU Credit Union, committee and supporters for keeping it going”, said Ponce.

We had a chance to talk to some of the event participants like Maria Casillas, who lives in Wilmington and has 4 adopted children. She’s been a recipient of the program for 3 years.

ILWU members and volunteers load Thanksgiving baskets for program recipients.

“Everyone is treated well and I like what they provide.” Maria prepares the entire meal for her children – 3 of which are in elementary school.

“I’m very grateful for all that they do every year” stated another recipient, Margarita Jimenez. And so were many others.

Petrona Salcedo is a Long Beach resident and housewife. “I have a large family – 7 children in total”. Every little bit helps for this family. Another family member, Mayra stood beside Petrona and explained that although she was working, she was still struggling – her work hours experienced a cut recently. Needless to say, she was happy to wait in line with her family.

About the Author

Alejandra Gutierrez Alex is the new Social Media Specialist for the ILWU Credit Union. She's a 'nerd' at heart who enjoys community building. Her obsessions: baked goods and old mariachi ballads.