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We Give Thanks holiday meal is back in person at Honda Center on Thursday

With costs rising for just about everything on the Thanksgiving table this year, it’s been a challenge to put together a free holiday meal to feed thousands. But Anaheim restaurateur Frank Garcia and his family, friends, sponsors and dozens of volunteers are up to the task.

Turkey and the trimmings will be served Thursday, Nov. 24, at the annual We Give Thanks event at the Honda Center. It’s free to all comers and no reservations are required.

In 2020, the pandemic forced the decades-old gathering to switch to boxed meals for people to take home, but it’s back in person this year – and that’s expected to draw an enthusiastic crowd, said Veronica Garcia, daughter of the event’s founder.

“What we’re starting to notice is we’re getting a lot of phone calls” asking if they’re serving a hot meal, she said. The boxed dinners that people had to heat and serve at home weren’t as popular, she said, as the fully prepared meal eaten communally in an atmosphere of holiday cheer.

Organizing and prepping for the meal was tougher this year. Food prices are high from inflation and other factors.

But in the spirit of the holiday, friends and well-wishers stepped in to make it happen. They had to pay more to get enough turkeys in time, and even supplies such as plates and napkins cost more – and then last week, someone wrote a big check that helped cover the price hikes, Veronica Garcia said.

The family started preparing food early last week at their Anaheim restaurant, La Casa Garcia; later in the week, the nearby Hilton hotel offered its kitchen, which can cook three times as many turkeys at once as the restaurant can.

Frank Garcia told his kids it may be the last year he’s so heavily involved in his signature event, his daughter said. He’s now 78, and last year he had a pacemaker implanted just days before Thanksgiving.

As her father prepares to scale back his involvement in We Give Thanks, Veronica Garcia said he knows the event will continue with help from professional chef Martin Guerrero. The two men met during the pandemic while they were feeding field workers in Irvine, and “he’s always kept in touch with my dad and told him, ‘When the time comes, we’re going to work together,’” she said.

After the turkeys are cooked, they’ll be making Frank Garcia’s special stuffing recipe (with rice, bell peppers and tomatoes in a sauce), gravy and creamy mashed potatoes; the pies to finish off the meal are donated.

Veronica Garcia said the family has never had a quiet Thanksgiving at home – it’s always at her dad’s event surrounded by thousands of hungry, grateful strangers that feel like family, and that’s how the Garcias like it.

“My whole thing is just seeing people happy and getting a hot meal and getting served on a special day,” she said. “To me, Thanksgiving is a family day.”

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