The typical Thanksgiving meal: Turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy and cranberry sauce.
On Friday, a united front of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station Youth Activities League, Los Angeles County Department of Parks and Recreation and Elevate Church came together to provide a version of this traditional feast with 500 Chick-Fil-A meals at the 2023 Harvest Festival that occupied Val Verde Park.
“We put it together because of the community. It helps the community,” said Cynthia Ortiz, deputy sheriff at the YAL in Castaic and Val Verde.
The YAL program is an after-school program that provides the community’s youth with a place to go and indulge in multiple activities.
“Our job is to help them get off the streets, help with their homework, help them with their school, help become better people, so they don’t fall into the street life,” said Ortiz.
Around every holiday, the YAL program gathers all available resources to create a holiday celebration for the community.
“During the holidays it usually tends to be a little harder,” said Ortiz. “It brings more meaning for the holidays because now they have somewhere where they are guaranteed to get a meal and gifts.”
This year the SCV Sheriff’s Station put out a notice that it was in need of assistance for the festival and, with it being only one day before the event, Elevate Chruch jumped at the opportunity.
The church worked to gather volunteers and coordinate with Chick-Fil-A in providing the Thanksgiving meals for all those who attended.
Organizers said the meals inside paper bags and drinks inside red solo cups served a greater purpose than to feed the stomachs of those in attendance; they showed the community that they are seen.
“We just want to love on them and let them know that they’re not invisible … and that they’re loved by their community,” said Mauricio Ruiz, lead pastor at Elevate Church.
Jennifer Raigoza, an Elevate Church volunteer, took this meaning to heart because she did know what it was like to feel invisible. Raigoza went through a period of her life where she lived in her car. She felt alone, invisible and not loved. Having been through those experiences is why she volunteers and strives to serve her community.
“That’s what is important to me, being there and showing love to those who don’t feel loved or think they deserve love. It’s a blessing in my opinion,” said Raigoza. “I have so much to give, I may not have a lot to give financially, but I have a heart to give. I want to give of much of myself to others.”
Dozens of Val Verde community members sat down at the tables lined inside the recreation room at Val Verde Park. Shoulder to shoulder, they all enjoyed their meal of a chicken sandwich with fries. The kids were up and down enjoying arts and crafts, the blow-up houses, popcorn and cotton candy.
“If we can just lighten up that load for a minute then we can bring some joy and hope,” said Raigoza.