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No more home-cooked donations at Thanksgiving meal for Pasadena homeless

Mark Rice lines up to get a free  meal at Union Station Homeless Services' Thanksgiving dinner last year at Central Park in Pasadena.
Courtesy of Union Station Homeless Services
Mark Rice lines up to get a free meal at Union Station Homeless Services' Thanksgiving dinner at Central Park in Pasadena.

The Pasadena charity Union Station Homeless Services will not be serving home-prepared dishes donated by community members at its annual Thanksgiving meal this year. The Pasadena Health Department informed the agency that it could no longer serve food items that were not prepared in approved locations.

Union Station has been offering  holiday meals to the homeless in Pasadena's Central Park for 37 years. Part of the tradition has included home-cooked turkeys, sides and desserts that area residents have made and delivered. Union Station officials said that hundreds of people have donated dishes in recent years and that many have called or sent in emails complaining about the decision.

“They’re angry at this ruling. They’re disappointed in us, and they can’t understand why it’s happened. These are people who cook for their families, and they want to participate," said Rabbi Marvin Gross, CEO of Union Station Homeless Services. "I would say there definitely has been some backlash, some pushback.”

The Pasadena Health Department did not return calls requesting comment. Gross said he understood the concerns about safety, but said he had never heard of a single instance of anyone getting sick from the meals.

Despite the loss of donated, prepared food, Gross said the charity would still be able to meet the demand for the massive meal. He said Union Station expects to serve about 5000 meals on Thursday. He says people can still donate store-bought food in its original packaging. The agency also encourages the donations of pies from The Village Cookie Shoppe, a bakery owned by Mental Health America of Los Angeles that provides work for people with mental illnesses.

Gross said that, while he's confident the meal will be successful, he'll still miss the home-cooked items from previous years. 

“The turkeys are great, but there’s something about stuffing that when people make it at home that I think is terrific. Unfortunately, I’ll have to find my stuffing somewhere else this year," he said.