Darcy Sangster had no intention of eating Thanksgiving dinner. A Canadian in Los Angeles on a uniquely American holiday, Sangster, 42, planned to enjoy the day alone, walking along the beach from Santa Monica to Venice. Yet by 2 p.m. he was digging into a towering plate of turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing, pleasantly surprised to be celebrating Thanksgiving with 200 strangers and a view of the Pacific Ocean.
Sangster had stumbled upon the Second Annual “Feed the Beach” Thanksgiving Day feast where, from noon until 3 p.m., an estimated 1,000 hungry men, women, and children enjoyed a free lunch amidst the company of friends, families, and total strangers.
Occupying much of Westminster Avenue between Speedway and Ocean Front Walk, animated groups crowded around a dozen tables in the street. Others stood in line with empty paper plates, waiting for a ladle of yams or green beans from one of the 12 servers. Chatter, laughter, and frenzied activity emanated from all around, giving the sunny afternoon more the feel of a neighborhood block party than a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.
According to Feed the Beach co-founders Nina and James Merced, a street party was exactly the feeling they were aiming for when they started the community meal in 2007. The husband and wife team, co-owners of the Fruit Gallery at 1 Westminster Avenue, planned last year’s event as dinner with a mission – namely, to offer a Thanksgiving meal to the handful of homeless folks who lived along the beach nearby.
But what started as a charitable enterprise became something far more. To their surprise and delight, over 500 people came to dine in 2007, homeless and non-homeless alike.
“It just turned into this beautiful thing,” said James, motioning to the throngs of people enjoying the food outside and the small army of volunteers buzzing around the serving line and Fruit Gallery kitchen.
James and Nina may be the brains behind Feed the Beach, but they refuse to take any more credit than that. According to Nina, over 200 people – dubbed “The Fruit Gallery Team” – donated their turkey, yams, string beans, and time to make this year’s Feed the Beach a reality, including significant help from the Marina del Rey Rotary Club, Venice Paparazzi, the Free Venice Beachhead, and a group of 17 teenagers from the Impacting Hearts foster-care program. The teens served food to the homeless in 2007, James said, and had such a meaningful experience that they called him to make sure they could help out again.
For many, it’s the community feel of Feed the Beach that makes it such a popular event. “I knew this would be good,” said Mike Pagoda, wearing a cardboard Pilgrim hat. He leaned back in his chair, resting a moment from the two plates of food in front of him. “It’s a very special Venice event.”
“This isn’t city or church-sponsored,” said volunteer Maria Joy who waved a homemade “Come to Westminster Ave — Free to Eat!” sign. “That’s what makes it different,” she said. “Just look at all the smiling faces!”
The Fruit Gallery Team assembled enough turkey and fixings to feed 1,000 people, yet still ran out of food an hour early. After doubling in size in just one year, will Feed the Beach continue to grow in 2009? Absolutely, says James with a wide, sly smile. “We might have to move down to the Venice Circle. Or close down another street.”