On Thanksgiving Day, families typically serve oven-roasted turkeys at the dinner table. But in Santa Clarita’s Gentle Barn, people serve the turkeys a little differently.
About 250 people from in and around the Santa Clarita Valley gathered on Thursday at the local animal sanctuary, located at 15825 Sierra Highway, to celebrate its 20th annual A Gentle Thanksgiving fundraiser, where families had the opportunity to feed and cuddle with the animals.
“It’s our favorite event of the year where people come from all over the world to cuddle turkeys, feed them their favorite treats, eat a vegan gourmet meal and then joined together in a drum circle,” said co-founder Ellie Laks. “When people meet the turkeys and cuddle in people’s laps it brings some people to tears. We’re showing people subliminally that, really, underneath it all, even though we look different, we’re all the same.”
And that was the scene at a section of the barn, where everyone from kids to adults fed the turkeys berries and grapes and embraced them. On top of a warm blanket, Noa Sherman, 14, did not pass up on the opportunity as he cuddled with one of them.
“I’m a pescetarian — I don’t eat meat but I do eat fish,” he said. “Sitting there was really fun, almost like a personal heater kind of thing. I just felt a lot of love and affection toward the both of us, even though I don’t really know much about (the turkey).”
For others who normally cook a turkey on Thanksgiving Day, the experience was an eye-opener, including for local residents and first-timers Nancy Myers and her mother Cathy Johnson.
“To do something like this on Thanksgiving, it’s wonderful,” said Nancy. “We usually cook a turkey but I think I’ll think twice about cooking a turkey.”
Families also spent time feeding horses and other farm animals before indulging in vegan food options by a bonfire and participating in a Native American drum circle session.
Funds from the fundraiser go to support the barn and what it offers to animals and the public.
“Ultimately, (funds) enable us to rescue more animals that have nowhere else to go and to fund our programs with children,” said Laks. “We also have a program where once the animals are healed and rehabilitated, we partner them with people that share the same stories of abuse and neglect to help them heal.”
The popular event is just one example of the support the Gentle Barn receives from the community, she added. In late October, when the Tick Fire struck the area and they fell under mandatory evacuations, the sanctuary sought help to transport more than 60 animals.
“People from the community came out in droves to help us carry goats and sheep onto trailers — it was pretty amazing,” Laks said in a previous interview.
Nearly $40,000 was donated that month to help the organization.