Local News

Wednesday, Nov 17 2010 07:51 PM

Free Thanksgiving dinner a blessing to those in need

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Tina Franco feeds her 3-month-old daughter, Nicole Vasquez, during the 20th annual Thanksgiving Dinner on Wednesday at Clay's Restaurant, formerly IHOP, on California Avenue.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Several hundred line up outside of Clay's Restaurant, Wednesday, on California Avenue to enjoy the 20th annual free Thanksgiving Dinner. They were able to feed close to 1,000 for the annual feast.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Harold Pierce tries to feed his granddaughter on Wednesday but she was more interested in napping than eating at Clay's Restaurant during their annual feast for Thanksgiving.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Hundreds line up for the annual Clay's Restaurant Thanksgiving Dinner, Wednesday, on California Avenue.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    They opened the doors early Wednesday at Clay's Restaurant to feed almost 1,000 people during their annual free Thanksgiving meal.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    JJ Cochran enjoys his Thanksgiving meal Wednesday at Clay's Restaurant.

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BY JASON KOTOWSKI, Californian staff writer jkotowski@bakersfield.com

At a time of day when many people are putting away their third meal of the day, Maria Lopez had yet to eat one.

It's been a rough year for her family, and she's had to sacrifice. She hasn't bought new clothes in a long time, and she and her husband don't eat out anymore. They're doing their best to make sure their young son is properly fed and clothed.

"We're just barely getting by," Lopez said.

That's why she was so grateful Wednesday as she waited with her family outside Clay's Restaurant for a free Thanksgiving dinner. It was an opportunity for them to be together and share a meal without worrying about the cost.

Hundreds of other people also turned out for the event, which marked the 20th year the restaurant, formerly an IHOP, has offered the free meal. A large crowd had gathered by the front door and stretched toward the back of the parking lot. A band played as free hot chocolate and coffee were served to those waiting outside.

Annie Hutchings, one of the owners, said 300 people were served in the first hour of the 4 to 7 p.m. event. The meal included turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, vegetables and a roll.

Hutchings said she wasn't sure they would be able to hold the dinner this year, but the community pitched in and helped them cover the roughly $2,000 in food costs.

That's good news to Jovita Sanchez and her three boys. They've been staying at a homeless shelter after being evicted from their home because of unpaid rent and then running out of money for motels.

Sanchez and Andrew, 9, Miguel, 10, and Marco, 12, have been at the shelter a few months now. Sanchez used to work in agriculture, and is trying to find employment.

"Hopefully this will be the year for me," she said as she sat in a booth with her sons.

Ruth Ayson, 54, was very satisfied with the meal, the mashed potatoes being her favorite. This was the first time she'd gone for the free dinner.

Ayson has been at a homeless shelter for a couple of months. She's working two jobs but isn't earning enough to get her own place. She's looking for a third job, and hopes that with three different paychecks she can be self-sufficient.

She gave a little laugh as she talked about finding more work, apparently not worried about taking on a heavier load. Her faith keeps her going.

"I just look toward God, really," Ayson said.

At least for one night, she can contemplate her future with a full belly.

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