It's hard to imagine a Thanksgiving Day without We Give Thanks - the annual buffet-style feast in the Honda Center parking lot that has fed thousands upon thousands of families for more than three decades. But 2020, as we all know, has been anything but conventional. This year, the risk of COVID-19 nearly forced the cancellation of this event until it was reimagined into an epic drive-thru format at Honda Center with the help of Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County.
More than 300 people, including volunteers, Ducks players and staff, and Second Harvest staff handed out Thanksgiving meals and other food to approximately 7,000 families on Thanksgiving Day. Each car that came through received a pre-prepared, heat-and-serve holiday meal for four (turkey, mashed potatoes, cranberry relish, King's Hawaiian rolls, and a pie), one box of supplemental, shelf-stable food and one box of fresh produce. In all, 1,300 turkeys, 7,000 pies and 13,000 pounds of potatoes, along with 175,000 pounds of boxed produce and shelf-stable groceries were provided for the food distribution.
This year, We Give Thanks, Inc., founded by Anaheim restaurateur Frank Garcia, teamed up with Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, Community Action Partnership of OC Food Bank, Waste Not OC, Wells Fargo, Honda Center and the Anaheim Ducks for its 34th annual event for Orange County residents who continue to struggle with food insecurity. For the past 11 years, We Give Thanks has partnered with Wells Fargo and the Ducks to host the annual buffet-style feast at Honda Center.
Ducks goaltending coach Sudarshan Maharaj knows the importance of giving back to a community that has given so much to the organization over the years. "It's a great opportunity for us to give back to the community especially in a time of need like this," he says. "The world is going through a real difficult time. There are a lot of people who need help, so it's a great thing that organizations like Second Harvest exist."
To make the process as smooth, efficient and safe as possible, volunteers were given different job responsibilities. Maharaj was responsible for opening and closing vehicle trunks while another person placed the boxes of food inside. Maharaj had plenty of assistance. Joining him were Ducks players Max Comtois, Derek Grant, Brendan Guhle, Danton Heinen, Max Jones, Sam Steel, Simon Benoit, Chase De Leo, Josh Mahura, Antoine Morand, Bo Groulx and Jani Hakanpaa.
"It's amazingly well-organized," Maharaj says. "It's incredible to see this many people get an opportunity to come in with all the restrictions in place. The unfortunate part is we don't have that person-to-person contact we used to have. Considering the circumstances, I think it's a fantastic opportunity to reach out to the community."
Jones is no stranger to We Give Thanks, having been a part of last year's event on a rainy Thanksgiving Day morning in the Honda Center parking lot. Despite not having that personal interaction like last year, Jones made the most of his time there today. "We're getting a lot of people fed," he says. "It's working really well. The Samuelis (Ducks owners Henry and Susan) are great owners and they do a great job giving back to the community and helping out as much they can. The weddings and every event they host here at Honda Center and on the property is something special. The community can always get behind them. This is just another example of this."
Jones's teammate - or linemate, in this instance - was Grant, who loaded the boxes of food into the trunks. The likeable forward compared each car to a NASCAR-style pit stop. "We've been setting record times in the pits," he says with a smile. "Jonesy is a little slow here and there, but he's getting it going. It's a special time of the year for everybody. You don't want anybody to miss out on Thanksgiving dinner, especially with family. It brings people together. This year with Covid and everything going on, it's extra tough for a lot of people. It's great to be out here doing this and helping out all these families.
"There are so many people going through tough situations," Grant says, "so it's something we can do to give back."
This event has extra meaning for La Mirada native De Leo, who grew up attending Ducks games as a kid. "Just being able to give back, especially for me in a community I was born and raised, it means a lot," he says. "It's special. I wouldn't want to be doing anything else on Thanksgiving. It goes to show what a first-class organization we have here. Super special and proud to be a part of it. The turnout is unbelievable. All the guys here helping out is special. We're having fun. We're more than happy spending our Thanksgiving here."