Community Thanksgiving Tradition Evolves for 2020

Packaged holiday dinners, frozen turkeys, pumpkin pies and more adorn a table outside the Malibu Community Labor Exchange on Tuesday morning, Nov. 24, as local families, workers and community members line up to take part in a socially distanced Thanksgiving food giveaway.

The latest community event to be affected by the pandemic has been the annual Malibu Community Thanksgiving Dinner. Up until this year, it was always held on Thanksgiving Day at the Malibu United Methodist Church and hosted by one of the city’s religious congregations. Families and workers would go through a buffet line and then sit down at tables to eat together, sometimes enjoying live music. 

This year was different: boxed family dinners and gift bags of toiletries to-go were handed out to about 80 workers at the Malibu Labor Exchange office early this week, before Thanksgiving, at pre-set appointment times. The workers were asked in advance if they wanted a box of Thanksgiving food to feed either six to eight or eight to 10 people. So, even though 80 people picked up dinners, as many as 480 to 800 people may have been fed from them.

“We’d been working closely with Oscar [Mondragon, manager of the Malibu Community Labor Exchange] for the last few weeks,” Diane Malecha, one of the event organizers, said, “And he got workers signed up for the dinners.”

Whereas in the past much of the community Thanksgiving food had been cooked at home by Malibu locals, this year the organizers ordered dinners from Pavilions in Malibu. The supermarket not only cooked and assembled the family feasts, but also donated “a good portion” of the food, Malecha explained.

“A small crew picked up the food at Pavilions and brought it to the labor exchange,” she continued, “And another crew of only three people put the dinners and toiletry bags out on tables for the workers to pick up” following COVID-19 precautions. 

Volunteers had pre-assembled the toiletry gift bags for each family by purchasing or collecting donated items like toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, soap, sunscreen, hand sanitizer and masks.

The volunteers and teams for this year’s community Thanksgiving dinner, as always, generally come from the Malibu faith community, plus many from local schools and scout troops, as well as families, individuals and college students.

The 24th annual Thanksgiving dinner was largely organized by Malecha and Janet Hirsch-Ettenger, who started the annual Thanksgiving community dinners in 1997, and Kay Gabbard, a board member of the Malibu Community Labor Exchange. The Malibu United Methodist Church, Malibu Jewish Center & Synagogue and Pavilions were co-sponsors. 

The organizers were able to provide the Thanksgiving dinners as a result of local fundraising efforts and donations. A $65 donation bought a complete Thanksgiving dinner for an entire family with ham, scalloped potatoes, green bean casserole, sweet potatoes, spiced apples, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pie. A donation of $20 paid for extra side dishes and desserts; and $25 bought a toiletries bag.

The organizers are now asking Malibu residents to continue their support of the nonprofit Malibu Community Labor Exchange because “Now, more than ever, many individuals and families need support to meet their most basic needs.” And, because of COVID-19, the organization most likely won’t be able to hold an annual fundraiser.


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