A volunteers hands out a turkey and warm meal to a man at Saturday's event. Photos by Andrew Lopez for Boyle Heights Beat.

As the sun rose over Mariachi Plaza Saturday morning, a line of families began to form on Vicente Fernández Street. Curious tamaleros and even some mariachis peered on, watching the plaza fill with people.

Meanwhile, volunteers hauled hundreds of frozen turkeys from refrigerated trucks and vans into bags and onto tables, sidelined by tote bags full of vegetables and fruit – all for the families in line. 

Weingart East Los Angeles YMCA held its 9th annual turkey giveaway Saturday morning.  Organizers expected 800-1000 people to come ready for lunch and entertainment according to Mayra Carrillo, program coordinator of the Eastside branch. 

“They’re waiting for their turkeys,” Carrillo said, turning to face the growing line of people. “We also prepared hot meals for them. We have champurrado, and we have some entertainment as well, like folklórico dancers and cheer squads. It’s a good time.”

Line wrapped around the block for families who wanted a turkey and Thanksgiving sides.

Through her community work at the YMCA, Carrillo knows that a lot of Eastside families are struggling to make ends meet and that the event could be what makes their Thanksgiving dinner possible. 

“A turkey is ridiculously expensive. We’re giving away canned goods. We’re giving away vegetables as well. So they’re getting a good meal to have for Thanksgiving,” Carrillo said.

Mauricio de la Torre in line behind Mariachi Plaza. Photo by Andrew Lopez for Boyle Heights Beat.

Around the corner, Mauricio de la Torre sat in a folding chair in line on Pennsylvania Avenue. He chatted with friends and family nearby and said the event helps those who need a dinner most. 

“We come and get the turkeys and then we go to a place over there by Mission and I cook them and hand them out over there. We don’t need it, but we’d rather give to others that can’t come over here,” de la Torre said. 

State Assemblymember and CD-14 candidate Miguel Santiago also sponsored the event and had an opportunity to pass out turkeys to community members himself. He also cited the economic challenges Boyle Heights residents may be facing in the wake of inflation.

California Assemblyman Miguel Santiago at the turkey giveaway.

“We’re making sure that we feed people today and are handing out just everything that people need to make Thanksgiving work. It’s been hard this year for people. While some people have bounced back from COVID, others are still having a hard time,” Santiago said. 

The CD-14 hopeful appeared focused on fostering and further building a community he represents as an assemblyman.

“I think there’s also this renewed spirit of giving back that we’ve seen in the neighborhood. More people are volunteering. More people are giving back,” Santiago said. “COVID brought something out of us, and it told us that we weren’t just by ourselves, that we needed to give to other people and we needed to share and build community.”

Santiago acknowledged the uniqueness of Boyle Heights, and how the neighborhood supports one another. 

“If you walk around and talk to anybody here, they’ve got love for their neighborhood. They want to help folks. This is a community that is a loving community,” Santiago said with enthusiasm in his voice. “It is a community that always takes care of itself and always takes care of their neighbors.”

As the event wound down and the folklórico dancers and cheer team caught their breath, families rolled their full carts away from the plaza. Many had secured their Thanksgiving meals, while also enjoying lunch. 

Mayra Carrillo expressed the importance of connecting with her Eastside community, a group she didn’t hesitate to call her family.

“It’s all about comunidad,” Carrillo said. “It’s a time to come together and unite. It’s a time of giving and it’s been a hard time for a lot of us. So, you know, es una ayuda. Es una ayuda para nuestra comunidad y porque somos como familia.” 

Andrew Lopez is a Los Angeles native with roots all over the eastside. He studied Humanities at Pasadena City College and transferred to San Francisco State University to study Broadcast and Electronic...

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