Santa Clarita City Councilman Cameron Smyth said he loves the community. It’s why, after 20 years of the Thanksgiving Community Dinner being put on by the city, he keeps coming back.
“It’s been a great event,” Smyth said. “I did it with my first go-around on the council, and when I came back in 2016, it’s a tradition that I wanted to continue. Now my kids are old enough that they can participate with me and it’s a great thing for us to do as a family to kind of kick off the holiday season.”
Monday evening at the Newhall Community Center, hundreds of Santa Clarita residents enjoyed a Thanksgiving meal served by city staff, as well as Smyth and Councilwoman Marsha McLean. Turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans and dessert were all for the taking as the community came together to celebrate, well, being together.
Tuesday evening saw the Canyon Country Community Center open its doors for people to enjoy a meal. Smyth said that having the two centers available for two different areas of the city is a great way for the city to better serve its residents.
“This event used to be lines out the door, because this was really our only community center that can handle the capacity,” Smyth said at the Newhall event. “Now, with the addition of the Canyon County Community Center, being able to spread it out, have it over two days, serve both areas, two sections of the community, it really makes it more accessible.”
This is the second year that the dinner was held after the COVID-19 pandemic forced it to be shuttered for a couple of years, according to Yolanda Ledezma, a community services supervisor for the city who ran Monday’s event.
“This is a community event that the families are already used to,” Ledezma said. “We’re just very happy that, after the pandemic, they’re coming back.”
Julie Calderon, a community services supervisor for the city who ran Tuesday’s event, shared a similar sentiment. She’s been in charge of the two community dinners that have been held at the Canyon Country Community Center since the center opened.
“Personally, I love having people enjoying a meal together and forgetting about all the troubles for a little bit and being thankful about everything that we have to share, especially with one another,” Calderon said.
Music could be heard throughout both centers on Monday and Tuesday as friends and family sat down to nosh. Children could be seen running around and taking pictures with a giant penguin, Parkway Penguin, the mascot for Parkway Motors, which sponsored the two events.
Michael Degarmoe, a Newhall resident, came with his wife and two kids on Monday, as well as several other family members. He said seeing everyone having fun, including the volunteers, is why he will probably return next year.
“I think it’s a nice thing that they do,” Degarmoe said. “They put on a very good dinner and just all the volunteers serving, having fun, they all seem to enjoy it.”
Degarmoe said he understands that some people are unable to host their own Thanksgiving meal on Thursday, so he’s happy to see that the city provides one. And bringing the community together in one place, he said, makes it even better.
“You always need community spirit,” Degarmoe said. “There’s people who can’t do it on their own, there’s people who are busy. That’s the world we live in today. Everybody is busy 24/7, so sometimes you don’t celebrate the holidays unless you get to do it through some kind of community event.”
At the Canyon Country Community Center, Paulette Ackerman returned after attending the event last year, along with a few of her friends.
“The event is wonderful,” Ackerman said. “The staff, the volunteers are wonderful, and it’s a community thing. The center is beautiful, organized, clean, and everybody that’s around here is very happy and congenial.”
After Smyth dished out food on Monday in Newhall, Councilwoman Laurene Weste was doing the same on Tuesday in Canyon Country.
Weste said that the city knows that the holiday season is about sharing, and that’s just what these community dinners are for.
“I think our city is a joyful place to live, and when the holidays come, we’re sharing the bounty of the holidays with everyone,” Weste said.
Angel Sanchez came on Monday with his brother and his family. He said he enjoyed how organized the event was, as well as the good food.
“The people that are helping with the drinks and the food, they are very nice and attentive,” Sanchez said.
Multiple people said on Monday that they would definitely return to the event next year. Smyth also said that he’s looking forward to helping out once again.
“It’s a great way for me to interact with the community,” Smyth said. “But it’s all about service and giving back. It’s something that I learned from my family and my parents, and now I’m able to pass it on to my own kids.”