Gobble Gobble Give

“Where did you come from?” asked Paul Major after I walked up to him and asked him how I could help. “Go right in over there and wait in line until [the volunteers] switch out,” he said, pointing to the back door that led into the dark main floor of The Echo, the venue at 1822 Sunset Blvd. which hosted the 15th annual Gobble Gobble Give.

Gobble Gobble Give is an organization that feeds the homeless on Thanksgiving Day in various cities across the United States. According to the Institute for the Study of Homelessness and Poverty at the Weingart Center, about 254,000 men, women and children in Los Angeles County experience homelessness.

Volunteers sign up for the event and often bring the food and clothing donations that are packaged and given to the homeless. “Part of what makes Gobble Gobble Give unique is that its basically a big potluck party,” said Major. “You bring a meal, that’s your ticket in.”

Yet according to Major, this great endeavor came from humble beginnings. “It all started with our founder Barry Walker making sandwiches for homeless he saw outside his apartment window,” Major said. “It gets bigger in some way every year.” Now, according to Major, Gobble Gobble Give served well over 10,000 meals.

Major is now the secretary of Gobble Gobble Give and directed the event at The Echo. “Five or six years ago I volunteered, and I had a really profound experience,” Major said just as a homeless man walked up to a nearby table filled with packaged boxes of meals and clothes. “I’ve been hooked ever since.”

“Can I grab one of these?” the homeless man asked. “Yeah, just any one right there,” Major replied. The man took a box and thanked him. “Happy thanksgiving brother,” Major said. “Take care.”

As I walked in through the doors and into the dark room, I couldn’t help but notice the distinct smell of cooked turkey and veggies. The large room was filled with dozens of volunteers who stood along the tables like an assembly line to stuff food into Styrofoam take-out boxes.

I placed my backpack in the corner and got in line as the organizers of the event called for volunteers to fill spots along the tables.

A DJ stood on the stage and played loud, upbeat music that mirrored the pace at which the volunteers worked. When I was finally called into a spot in one of the tables, I was assigned to one of the the veggie tables, where I was in charge of placing a small portion of green bean casserole onto the take-out boxes that came down the table.

The tables were arranged according to the food they served. The take-out boxes started in the desserts table, and then moved on to the carbs, veggies, and finally ended in the meat tables. As the other volunteers and I worked swiftly to keep the line flowing smoothly, runners came and went, replenishing the food we served, and bringing us more take-out boxes to fill.

The desserts table was where the take-out boxes were loaded with pies, cakes and various other pastries. Then they were taken to the carbs table, where they were loaded with dinner rolls and different kinds of pasta and rice. The veggie table where I worked had the most amount of food, ranging from casseroles to beans and mashed potatoes. The meat tables that came after the veggie tables often complained that the take-out boxes were too full, and not enough meat could fit in them.

We worked in 40-minute shifts, after which volunteers switched out, as there were more volunteers than there were tables. Thankfully, due to the abundance of volunteers, more gloves were needed than food.

According to Major, organization was one of the most important factors of the event. He described the challenges of planning the event, collecting donations and coordinating the volunteers. “We think about what the flow is as far as where food and people are gonna come in, and where we need them to get out,” he said.

Major also explained how Gobble Gobble Give raised money to fund their events, and just passed their goal of $10,000 that Thanksgiving morning. “We get corporate, fiscal and turkey donations,” Major said. “Or we go and purchase turkeys with whatever little funds we have at the end of the year.” According to Major, some of the main contributors of Gobble Gobble Give include Topson Downs Apparel, American Apparel, Hansens and Sparklets.

I mean I like to hand out meals to the homeless people, but to see the community, to see the people that show up to help out, that’s really the payoff for me.

As we worked to prepare the meals on the ground floor, other volunteers on the second floor prepared complete clothing outfits and packaged them into small bags. The small bags of clothes and the meals we prepared were then taken to the loading dock, where they were placed into small boxes with some personal care items, and drivers would load them into their cars and take them to the homeless people in their designated areas. “The real heart of the organization is people taking food to the homeless,” Major said. “Getting those drivers out, with meals.”

While preparing meals, I met another volunteer, Lawrencia Colding. When asked how she found out about Gobble Gobble Give, she said “it was an accident.” She later explained how she wanted to do something good for the holidays, and discovered Gobble Gobble Give on Facebook five years ago. “I showed up at 6:30 and I saw Paul for the first time, then I saw Barry,” she said. “I just jumped in and I was there for the whole event.”

”Now she’s indispensable,” Major said, as he passed by carrying a large stack of take-out boxes.

Colding has been participating in Gobble Gobble Give for the last five years, and explained how it has been growing bigger every year. “This is not about us going out and feeding people, its only one day a year,” she said. “Seeing people here inspired to help others, working until they’re tired and passed exhaustion, it inspires people to want to keep on helping and being involved in their community.”

After most of the meals were packed, prepared, packaged into boxes with clothes and personal care items, I went to work at the desserts table. There were more desserts and veggies than meat and carbs, and soon enough, we ran out of turkeys. As the event drew to a close and more and more volunteers began leaving, I stayed behind to help clean up.

Later on, the founder, Barry Walker, came to visit The Echo after spending the whole day organizing the Gobble Gobble Give in Santa Monica. When I finished cleaning up, I struck up a conversation with him, where I asked him how he started Gobble Gobble Give. “I was at a crossroads of my life, pretty much at the bottom, and I didn’t have much to be happy about,” he said. “So I scraped together some change and just fed some people outside my window.”

Walker explained how he started Gobble Gobble Give by making nine meals, and how every year, more and more of his friends joined him. “It’s the community effort,” Walker said. “I mean I like to hand out meals to the homeless people, but to see the community, to see the people that show up to help out, that’s really the payoff for me.”

Major said his favorite part of the event was the dedication of the volunteers. “It’s a tremendously positive experience for most people,” he said. “And getting to see them spend their time helping the homeless is incredibly inspiring.”

At the end of the day, I boarded the Metro bus back home with the empty box that carried the meals I distributed on my walk to the bus stop, and a feeling like I made a difference.