Illustration by Rachel Edelstein.

The Santa Cruz Veteran’s Hall will be unable to continue its 24-year tradition of hosting Santa Cruz’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner this year. The United Veteran’s Council announced last month that due to the closure of the Veteran’s Hall, it would be unable to host the traditional dinner.

In response, a group of activists from the Santa Cruz community formed Friends of Thanksgiving, a broad-based coalition of people who have taken responsibility for carrying on the tradition of the annual Thanksgiving dinner, served to the homeless of Santa Cruz. Former city council candidate Steve Pleich was the driving force behind the group’s materialization.

“All these people have made time especially to do this,” Pleich said. “This group wouldn’t have been anything if people hadn’t made the commitment to really see this through.”

Friends of Thanksgiving came together only three weeks ago, and in that time they organized the alternative Thanksgiving Day event, which will be held at the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium from 12 to 3 p.m.

The Veteran’s Hall typically serves over 1,000 meals each year for Thanksgiving, and Friends of Thanksgiving is prepared for a similar turnout this year. Pleich said that it is ready to serve about 1,500 meals this year, maybe more.

“A lot of private individuals have been donating food, and many different organizations were willing to contribute,” said Rev. Dennis Adams, a Friends of Thanksgiving leader. “When we mention to people that this dinner is still going to be going on, they are very happy and willing to help out.”

Pleich said main donation sources include the Farmers’ Market, Second Harvest Food Bank and Beckmann’s Old World Bakery. The Homeless Services Center has helped as well, and Costco offered special prices on turkey for the event. Though many businesses are pitching in, some food sources will potentially be unavailable due to the initial cancellation.

“Our problem is, because we started so late, it took a while to work out,” Pleich said. “Some of the folks that normally donate saw the article in the Sentinel that there would be no Thanksgiving dinner, and they made commitments of food that they normally would have given to [the Veteran’s Hall]. We’re trying to get a hold of those folks and make sure they haven’t committed their food to somebody else.”

Nevertheless, volunteers have been stepping up to the plate, and phones have been ringing off the hook with people interested in donating their time or food to the event, said Megan Carlson, volunteer coordinator for the Homeless Services Center.

“I don’t have any doubt that the community will come together and be a part of this event,” Carlson said. “We’re really excited about it. It’s an event that we all can participate in. It’s for the whole community.”

Former city council candidate Pleich said Santa Cruz has a reputation for being generous and helping those less fortunate, and that Friends of Thanksgiving has been counting on that aspect of the community to get this event together.

“This is the Santa Cruz tradition, and we’re going to keep it going in any way we can,” he said. “There are a lot of people doing really great work. This is going to help us turn a time of want and need into a time of celebration and generosity.”

Rev. Adams emphasized the importance of the meal for the homeless in Santa Cruz.

“We are very thankful to give ourselves up to the city of Santa Cruz so that people can have a great Thanksgiving this year,” Adams said. “Whether people are living inside or outside, we want to make to sure they have a nice toasty dinner on Thanksgiving Day.”