Serving turkey with a side of hope and support
With support from Wells Fargo, the Los Angeles Mission continues fighting hunger and aiding Skid Row’s homeless community at its annual Thanksgiving celebration.
On a typical Wednesday, downtown Los Angeles’ Fifth Street is one of the busiest streets in the city, clogged with cars making their way to gleaming office towers. The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, however, a section of Fifth Street in front of the Los Angeles Mission teems with a different kind of energy as it’s transformed for its annual Thanksgiving feast. This year, the event was held indoors because of inclement weather. More than 200 Wells Fargo volunteers helped prepare and serve holiday meals for more than 3,500 homeless men, women, and children in Los Angeles’ Skid Row district.
Wells Fargo has sponsored the event for 13 consecutive years. The company’s $50,000 donation not only helps the Mission provide free Thanksgiving meals for its guests, but also supports the year-round services the Mission offers to the homeless community.
“We count on loyal support from area companies, individuals, and groups that never fail to step up to fund the work we do,” said Herb Smith, president of the Los Angeles Mission. “We certainly squeeze the most out of every dollar donated by Wells Fargo. Their faithful support enables us to do so much more.”
Celebrities and local city officials, including chefs Michael Voltaggio and Bobby Flay, and Chief of the Los Angeles Police Department Michel Moore, worked alongside volunteers throughout the day to serve thousands of meals — which included more than 1,800 pounds of turkey, 90 gallons of gravy, and 3,500 servings of cranberry sauce — all cooked and prepared by the Mission’s kitchen staff.
Free health examinations provided by the Los Angeles Christian Health Center were also available at the event. Guests could receive foot washes, a new pair of socks, and free flu and Hepatitis A vaccines.
Michael Ormonde, Wells Fargo's Los Angeles region bank president, first started participating in the event three years ago, just 1 1/2 weeks into his current role. He said he was, and still is, amazed at how team members and the city come together for such a great cause.
“What struck me the most was when team members would stop me along the way in helping serve these meals and talked about the personal impacts that it made to them to make such a difference to those in need on Thanksgiving Day,” Ormonde said.
“In Los Angeles, part of the DNA of our team members is giving back to the communities that we live in, and one great event is this one at the Los Angeles Mission that our team members love being a part of, not just at Thanksgiving, but all year long.”
Blooming with support
The Los Angeles Mission has provided emergency housing and supportive services for the homeless since its establishment as a soup kitchen in 1936, and it helps individuals find permanent and sustainable solutions for food, shelter, and rehabilitation needs.
In 2018 alone, the organization served nearly 400,000 meals, provided more than 135,000 showers, distributed more than 110,000 articles of clothing, and offered more than 126,000 nights of shelter to the Los Angeles homeless community.
The Mission also offers a 12‑month rehabilitation program to help those struggling with drug addictions. After completing the program, alumni receive continuous support from the Mission, including help finding employment, building a stable housing situation, and developing a strong support network.
Johnnetta Tripplett was living on the streets with a drug and alcohol addiction for 14 years before coming to the Anne Douglas Center for Women at the Mission. One day while on the streets, she discovered a flower‑filled yard and was enamored by them.
“I believe that’s the day God lifted the scales off my eyes,” she said. “That’s the first day I ever noticed flowers.”
After that, she began picking flowers, arranging them in her wine bottles, and handing them out to passersby.
“That was the most beautiful thing I had seen out there in the midst of all that mess,” Tripplett said.
After graduating from the program, Tripplett turned her passion for flowers into a livelihood. She learned the basics of floral design at Santa Monica College before starting her own floral design business, God’s Glorious Creations: Floral Designs by Johnnetta. The Mission even hired her to create floral decorations for its holiday events, including this year’s Thanksgiving event. Tripplett’s centerpieces of yellow sunflowers, red roses, and orange gerbera daisies decorated each table at the event, adding to the overall festive fall theme.
“I’m really proud of Johnnetta,” Smith said. “Johnnetta has a passion for helping and giving back full circle, from the streets, back to the streets, helping others.”
“The Mission is still supportive, even after 14 years of (me) being sober,” Tripplett said. “This is my home. I can come here any time.”