Delicious Thanksgiving smells and large smiles filled the Val Verde Community Center Tuesday night for the community Thanksgiving dinner hosted by Real Life Church. The event served a full Thanksgiving dinner to nearly 500 Val Verde residents as part of 20 year long holiday tradition to bring the community closer together.
Jeanette Grant, 68, has lived in Val Verde for 25 years and enjoys the Thanksgiving dinner every year. She said it is one of her favorite holiday traditions.
“It is a wonderful thing they do for the community,” said Grant who attended with three other neighbors. “Val Verde is often overlooked in Santa Clarita. But as you can see from the turn out, the community really does appreciate it.”
Grant, like many other residents of Val Verde expressed their gratitude for the event, which offers a full Thanksgiving dinner free of charge. Many said they too feel Val Verde is often forgotten.
“Nobody really knows or remembers we’re here,” said Grant. “But we all look forward to this event, there isn’t anything else like this in Val Verde.”
The Thanksgiving Dinner hosted by Real Life Church is the biggest community event offered in the small community. The event provides a free turkey dinner and social time, creating a greater sense of community for residents of the neighborhood tucked away in the hills of Castaic.
Nearly 150 volunteers from Real Life Church, the Youth Activity League (YL) of Val Verde, and the community at large helped with the event. Volunteers cooked, prepped and served food. The YL helped younger children with crafts and clean up.
More than 300 pounds of turkey, 150 quarts each of mashed potatoes and sweet potatoes, and 65 large pumpkin pies were donated to serve residents. The community center was bustling with pleasant chatter and residents with full bellies during the two-hour event Tuesday.
“This whole thing started with the youth league, many people forget it’s back here,” said Veronica Miele, event coordinator and administrative assistant for the Outreach team at Real Life. “Many forget Val Verde is an extension of our community and we want to make sure we are caring for all people in Santa Clarita.”
Deputy Brian Rooney has run the YL program fro 6 years and said he feels the group is a valuable resource for the community.
“This lets the community know law enforcement in a way other than being stopped or getting arrested,” he explained. “It’s an opportunity to see us being a mentor and helping the community. They can come here and ask questions or get help with anything.”
Yani Rincon, 15, said she loved being apart of the YL. The group influenced her to work hard in school and to become a mechanical engineer.
“Rooney and the staff teach us life lessons,” she explained. “They help us with homework and really help set us in the right direction for the future.”
As part of the influence of Deputy Rooney and others, the teens have learned to give back to their community. They volunteer with the Thanksgiving event. Rincon and other members helped deliver Thanksgiving meals to the elderly, disabled and others who can’t drive.
“It really is a nice time to bring the whole community together,” Rooney said. “This is a low-income community and not because of a lack of hard work. So this offers families a time to have a good night.”
Alma Fowble has volunteered since the effort first launched in 1996. She explained at first, less than 100 people attended. Volunteers also increased and many who help don’t attend Real Life.
“It is so important for us to serve others and Val Verde is one of our neighbors,” said Fowble. “It’s overwhelming when I think of what it takes to put something like this on and how many people we have helping. Now it has become a tradition for many people.”
Violet Bagni is one of those volunteers who doesn’t attend the church. She has helped with the event for three years.
“I told a friend I wanted to volunteer in some way and she told me about it,” said Bagni. “For me since I was a young girl, I have loved helping others.”
The Thanksgiving outreach event was launched more than 20 years ago by Lakehills Community Church. It was taken over by Real Life 8 years ago when Lakehills no longer had the man power to run the event.
“This has become a part of what volunteers do for the holidays,” Fowble explained. “Its neat to see people coming together to serve a cause. They simply have a servant’s heart and want to help.”