Martha Garcia, a single mother of three, recently moved to back to California from Arizona after things didn’t work out with the father of her four-year-old son, Christopher Caraveo.
She currently rents a room in a house owned by a friend’s cousin, and the family has lived there since September while they attempt to get situated.
“It’s been a little bit here, a little bit there, but being able to have a place to get on our feet has helped a lot,” Garcia said.
Garcia originally didn’t have plans for Thanksgiving, but that changed Monday night when eight members of Unified We Serve (UWS), a volunteer organization at CSUN, personally delivered food to her and her family at their home.
Garcia’s family was chosen through the organization’s Adopt-A-Family program, which chooses families in need and provides them with Thanksgiving food. The program was started five years ago by UWS and works with Meet Each Need with Dignity (MEND), a nonprofit organization that addresses poverty, said Justin Weiss, activities coordinator for volunteer programs and services at the Matador Involvement Center.
In Los Angeles, about 26 percent of families are living below the poverty line, according to statistics from city-data.com. That number rises to 47 percent when the family consists of a single mother.
The members of UWS started their night at VONS supermarket after meeting in the G3 parking lot of CSUN at around 7 p.m. Once inside the grocery store, they split into two groups and tag-teamed the gathering of Thanksgiving items and other foods which consisted of a frozen turkey, canned goods, cereal, milk, cake mix, stuffing and others.
Daisy Gonzalez, senior sociology and criminology major, has volunteered with UWS for two years. She enjoys both aspects of being involved with delivering Thanksgiving food to families in need.
“It’s one experience when you’re shopping (for their dinner) because we get to be with our friends and interact (with) our group members, and then it’s a whole other experience when you go and drop off the food to the families because you get to see their reactions,” Garcia said.
The next stop on the journey was Garcia’s house, located about 10 minutes from the school. The volunteers arrived shortly after 9 p.m., and were greeted by Garcia and her youngest son at the gate.
After everyone filed inside the home, Garcia was surprised at the amount of goods placed on her dining-room table.
“This is more than I expected,” Garcia said when she saw the boxes of food. “This is going to help us a lot.”
Following an exchange of thank-yous and a group picture, the eight UWS members, Garcia and her son gave each other a large group hug.
Travis White, junior criminology major and student assistant for UWS, has delivered Thanksgiving food for families for three years and enjoys the families’ reactions when the volunteers show up on their doorsteps.
“Just seeing the excitement on their faces for the holidays makes me feel really great,” White said.
White finds this experience different than when he worked with MEND assessing a family’s level of need.
“It was just a little bit different this time because I was actually providing the food this time instead of just evaluating her,” White said. “It makes me a lot more happy actually providing food for her instead of just evaluating her and asking her questions about how she’s living.”
In addition to the money they raised to pay for the Thanksgiving food for Garcia and her children, the group also bought and donated a gift card from Target.
“A lot of years we’ve done (the dinner delivery), we’ve always tried to go above and beyond,” White said.
Participating in this deed reminds White of what he loves about the Thanksgiving holiday.
“It brings families together,” White said. “Especially around this time, I always do Adopt-A-Family with Unified We Serve, so we bring the Unified We Serve family together to help another family come together for Thanksgiving.”
Gonzalez mentioned the happiness on Caraveo’s face when he saw the boxes of food as an example of the positives that can come from this experience.
“You feel the pleasure of helping other people,” Gonzalez said. “You get to see the joy in their face and know that they’re going to have a good Thanksgiving because we were able to help them.”
Garcia was glad she could provide the kind of Thanksgiving that she feels her children should have.
“Thinking that when you were with your parents and you have those big dinners, you want to do the same for your kids, and all of a sudden you can’t,” Garcia said. “It breaks your heart because you should be able to.”
With the feast provided by UWS, Garcia said she will now attempt to celebrate Thanksgiving with her family and those living in the house.
“I’m very happy,” Garcia said. “It’s like everything’s coming together.”