From morning to early afternoon on Thanksgiving, more than 60 volunteers from UCLA were hard at work to make sure the annual Westside Thanksgiving Community Dinner and Celebration went off without a hitch.
Student, staff, faculty and alumni volunteers helped make Thursday’s event a resounding success for more than 3,000 veterans, homeless individuals, students and low-income families who gathered at the West Los Angeles VA campus.
The UCLA Volunteer Center and UCLA Alumni Affairs organized the volunteer effort for the celebration, which has been hosted by organizations and individuals citywide since 1982. In addition to a traditional turkey dinner, those attending received free clothing and blankets, haircuts, immunizations and medical consultations. A petting zoo was on hand to entertain children and families.
“It was great to have Bruins participating because Thanksgiving really is more than just a holiday about turkey and football,” said Assistant Director Ashley Love-Smith of the volunteer center. “It’s a holiday to give thanks and hopefully give back to those less fortunate. Thanksgiving is the start of the holiday season and the season for giving back. And we, as Bruins, understand the True Bruin Value of service.”
Arriving as early as 8 a.m., volunteers quickly created a massive human chain to move hundreds of hygiene kits and other giveaways from trucks to tables for distribution to guests. Other volunteers worked on preparing food for thousands who arrived for the 11 a.m. feast.
“Veterans were first in line, and volunteers gathered around them to cheer as they entered the event,” said Kathleen Ly, UCLA Volunteer Center marketing coordinator. “It felt very much like a parade, and the atmosphere was amazing.” The Westside Thanksgiving event was moved to the West Los Angeles VA three years ago, with hopes of making a greater connection with the region’s veteran population.
UCLA Volunteer Center’s partner Operation Gratitude was also on hand, manning coloring stations so that parents and children could create artwork and letters to be included in care packages destined for U.S. military service members. So far, the volunteer center has partnered with the nonprofit to send more than 17,000 letters to wherever service members are stationed.
“Participating in the West LA VA Thanksgiving dinner provided Bruins with an opportunity to continue to give back to the larger community,” UCLA Government and Community Relations Assistant Vice Chancellor Keith Parker said. “This is one of those special days where providing service and support to veterans and others in need brings out the best in the Bruin community. I was so proud to work with my fellow Bruin staff, alumni and friends in this effort.”