Helping the needy gets tougher

Marketplace Staff Nov 27, 2008

Helping the needy gets tougher

Marketplace Staff Nov 27, 2008


Bob Moon: OK, gang, you know what it’s time for now.

Many voices shouting: Turkey. Woo Hoo. And what about sweet potatoes?

Yeah, and green beans and stuffing and pumpkin pie. All that good stuff. Those enthusiastic folks you just heard were collecting food for the homeless. It’s all part of the Thanksgiving-Dinner-in-the-park held in every year just up the road in Pasadena, Calif.

Union Station Homeless Services has served up all the fixins for several years now. But this year, times are a little tougher for everyone, for those who are in need and for those who are trying to fill the need. I joined Rabbi Marvin Gross this morning at the park. He’s the executive director at Union Station, and he told me a little bit about his operation.

Marvin Gross: This is about the 35th year in a row that we’ve done our Thanksgiving dinner in the park. Right behind me, hundreds, maybe even several thousand volunteers are checking in and getting ready to serve. We have cooked 200 turkeys for today. And over on the street there, across the park you can see the curb, there are going to be people who are going to be coming there all morning dropping off turkeys, hams, pies. And it’s a great feast and a wonderful community event.

Moon: Now, you’ve been around a number of years, how much of a demand have you seen this year compared to previous years?

Gross: Well, Bob, this could be the biggest this year. I think we all know the need is pretty great out there in the community. Pasadena’s no different from other parts of the country. Last year, in the midst of a pretty good economy, we served 5,000 meals to hungry and homeless people. And, this year, you know, it’s hard to predict, but a lot of folks are here lining up already, so we could break all records. But fortunately, we have great community support to help us meet this challenge.

Moon: Now, Thanksgiving aside, how much of a demand have you seen this year? It’s been growing, you say.

Gross: The demand is growing. We operate several shelters here in Pasadena with a total of just over 150 beds. We are filled now all the time. Unusually for us, we have a waiting list. The numbers coming to our meal service during the week at breakfast and lunch at our adult shelter, those numbers are growing. And at the same time, to be honest, our resources are decreasing right now. November and December are our two biggest months for income during the year, and we’re obviously close to the end of December, and our revenue is down. And it could be pretty serious for us.

Moon: And still the demand is there, so how do you manage?

Gross: Well, we do the best we can. We’re going to all of our friends in the community and asking them to step up. I’ve been on the phone with a lot of our donors and been asking them to help us meet the challenge. We remain committed to our mission but, you know, I can’t be deluded myself that things are going to be easy. This is gonna be a tough year, but people have big hearts.

Moon: Well, that brings me to the obvious question today. As hard as it’s been this year, what are you thankful for?

Gross: I’m thankful that I have an opportunity to do meaningful work. I’m thankful for my family and friends, for my health that allows me to continue to do this work. And I’m thankful that I’m engaged in an enterprise with a number of other folks who are volunteers, staff people, people on our board, community leaders here who realize that all during the year there are those in need. And we have a problem in this country of a widening income gap, and one day I hope that maybe we can cancel this dinner because everybody can provide for themselves, but in the meantime, we’re gonna be here doing our best.

Moon: Rabbi Marvin Gross is executive director of Union Station Homeless Services in Pasadena, Calif. Thanks very much for giving us your time today.

Gross: Bob, it’s my pleasure. Happy Thanksgiving.

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