Once again this year, the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, Soboba Foundation and Soboba Casino Resort gathered together to ensure that the neediest families in the San Jacinto Valley could be thankful for a hearty turkey meal on Thanksgiving Day.
The Hemet and San Jacinto unified school districts identify those families that will go without if not for the generosity and compassion they receive from Soboba. Additionally, about 200 other families in the community receive the same meal fixings through various programs that have reached out to the Soboba Foundation for assistance.
On Nov. 16, 1,000 frozen Butterball turkeys weighing 20-plus pounds each were distributed at the Hemet Unified School District’s administration offices on Acacia Ave. Each family also received a large package of cornbread stuffing, turkey gravy, cranberry sauce, corn, green beans, rolls and frozen seasoned mashed potatoes and a pumpkin pie. Each one also received a box of 20 N95 disposable Particulate Respirator facial masks to ensure a healthy holiday.
Thanks to the efforts of volunteers from the Soboba Foundation, Soboba Tribal Council, SCR, the school district and the community, vehicles were safely and swiftly loaded with all the fixings for a scrumptious Thanksgiving feast during the few hours of the drive-through event.
“I love helping out and giving back, that’s what it’s all about,” Soboba Tribal Council Treasurer Daniel Valdez said. Also on hand from Tribal Council was Sergeant at Arms Mike Bentiste. Soboba Foundation President Dondi Silvas stayed busy delivering items to cars as they pulled up.
HUSD’s Nutrition Services department began to assemble the 2,000 boxes a few days prior to the event. The dry goods were placed into one with a sticker that read “Wishing a Happy Thanksgiving as we gather together. Soboba Gives Back!”
Refrigerated trucks filled with boxes of the frozen items, including the turkeys, were constantly being unloaded by forklift to be delivered to the distribution area for easy access. Jason Hockman, who oversees the warehouse for HUSD, was helping with the moving of the pallets that contained 60 turkeys per load.
“It’s a lot of work but it’s fun and I enjoy it and I’m having a good time with my bosses,” Hockman said.
Assistant Director Josh Dorfner has been with the district for six years and said the workers learn something new every year. He said the cars began to line up at noon for a scheduled start time of 2:30 p.m. He said everyone worked hard to assemble 50 pallets of product to be ready for the event.
To keep the area clear of clutter, volunteers were breaking down the boxes as they were emptied and loading the cardboard into a large recycling bin. HUSD delivery driver Maurice Garcia made sure the bins were emptied and returned to the area in a timely manner. A 20-year Marine Corps veteran who began working for the district four months ago, Garcia was participating in the event for the first time.
“It’s nice to see this,” he said. “And to know that the food is going to good homes and families that need it.”
Emily Shaw is the director of the Wellness & Community Outreach Center that serves families of students who attend HUSD schools. “We do monthly food distributions, and they tell us that times are tough and without the food that is provided they don’t know what they would do,” Shaw said. “Thanks to the generosity of Soboba our students will be able to enjoy the holiday. It’s pretty amazing.”
The following day, the stadium parking lot at San Jacinto High School was transformed into a three-lane pick-up station for the 800 families who have students attending San Jacinto Unified School District schools. Items were sorted by dry and frozen and bagged by a steady stream of volunteers, many of them returning to help after working at the Hemet location the day before.
Hemet-San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Cyndi Lemke was one of those. She said she enjoys helping out and seeing others in the community do the same. Several members of the Chamber of Commerce board of directors pitched in as well, such as Aaron Ciufo, the restaurant leader at Hemet’s Raising Cane’s, who admits he likes turkey as much as chicken fingers.
“I am so thankful for him and all he does for the community, as well as so many other Chamber members,” Lemke said. “To see everyone come out and celebrate this cause with their time and efforts is what it’s all about.”
Adam Eventov with SoCalGas has been volunteering for the past four years and enjoys it every time. Also on the Chamber’s board, he said he is willing to help out whenever possible.
Tammy White is SJUSD’s Director of Nutrition Services and she worked with the entire team to coordinate the event so it would run smoothly and seamlessly. “After meeting with the district and Soboba we found out how much was coming in and we plotted out where everything would be set up for the distribution. “This year it seems we have a lot more volunteers and things seem to really flow,” White said. “We always remember why we’re here and that’s to feed students.”
Ken Swanson, principal at Mountain View High School and Mountain Heights Academy, stayed busy directing traffic based on the lane number each vehicle was given upon checking in with the voucher they received when their child was selected to be a recipient of the Soboba Gives Back! program. “This is just one of the ways our school district helps out with the generous support of Soboba,” Swanson said. “Why wouldn’t we be out here supporting our kids and our families?”
Music played on loudspeakers as cars were ushered into the parking lot and a long line of representatives from each school stood along the route cheering and wishing them a happy holiday. Members of the district’s Student, Community & Personnel Support department led by Stefany Curiel collected the vouchers, scanned them into a laptop and then filed them away by school location. Liaison Crystal Ackerman said that in the first 41 minutes of the event, 320 vouchers had been scanned.
SJUSD School Board President John Norman was busy filling shopping bags that were placed onto carts that were wheeled to individual vehicles as they drove up. “The Soboba Foundation does such a tremendous job and reaches out to this community in so many different ways,” he said. “This is such a worthy cause.”
SJUSD Superintendent David Pyle said he is beyond words in trying to express his gratitude for Soboba. “They continue to give throughout the holiday season,” he said as he filled bags with canned goods. “This is the best part of my day. Half the fun is seeing families that will be able to enjoy a Thanksgiving meal together.”
Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians except where otherwise noted