Hundreds of local, older adults could not break bread together this year for the annual Thanksgiving feast at the Bella Vida Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center, but many still showed, some even dressed up for a drive-thru version Thursday.
Vehicles zig-zagged through the large parking lot of the center as they lined up to receive free, to-go bags of both hot and cold festive meals prepared by dozens of volunteers. The event was brought forth by the senior center and the Castaic Lions Club.
“We’re doing 700 meals today,” Senior Center Executive Director Kevin MacDonald, who was helping hand out food bags, said, adding that their home-delivered meals operation had dropped off 300 meals to homebound seniors.
For many older adults, the annual feast offers an opportunity to connect with others, including with local students who traditionally volunteer and bond with attendees. The COVID-19 pandemic overturned plans to relive the holiday event. Bella Vida’s first Thanksgiving celebration last year dished out about 1,000 meals for seniors.
“This is contact-free, and I’ve heard many people say, ‘I really wanted to go see my family, but I’m going to stay home because that’s the right thing to do,’” said drive-thru volunteer Ashley Ahmadi. “Someone even said, ‘I put on makeup today.’ So, today is really the only day some will get that interaction with others, even if it’s through cars.”
Resident Juan Sanchez, who was lining up to receive his meals, said they would be a big help for the remainder of the week.
“This meal prepared for the community is the best thing that these people could do because so many people are handicapped,” he said. “I’ll be doing the cooking myself and, during the rest of the week, this will work.”
One notable detail printed on each of the meal bags was a quote from Alan “Flo” Lawrence, a beloved community volunteer and president of the Castaic Lions Club, that read, “Everywhere I go, I find love.”
Lawrence, 63, died Aug. 19, and was known for putting together the annual Thanksgiving Day feast. Amid high winds Thursday, his ex-wife Susan Lawrence read a prayer during a moment of remembrance for Alan.
“We’re doing this in memory of our dear friend Flo Lawrence,” said MacDonald. “He was our co-chair and he said, ‘I see love in everything,’ and that’s our motto: We see love in everything. We miss him.”
Last year, during the first Thanksgiving feast at Bella Vida, Lawrence spoke on the joy of celebrating together at the center’s large banquet hall, after many years of having the event at the smaller, former location on Market Street in Newhall.
“Celebrating at this location, it just lets us share more love — more room, more love,” he said then.