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Photos: Silver Lake Spa Owner Helps Feed Thousands of Homeless

Echo Park's Gobble Gobble Give has turned into a national Thanksgiving event that fed more than 5,000 homeless in Southern California alone this year.

An  estimated 700 volunteers from around Southern California stormed the Echo Thursday morning.

They came from Santa Barbara, mid-Wilshire, Redondo Beach and Eagle Rock to take part in the 14th annual Gobble Gobble Give.

Some helped put “traditional” Thanksgiving meals in styrofoam containers.

Others were in cars, backing up Sunset Boulevard east for blocks, as they picked up and dropped off food and clothing.

The goal?

Deliver potluck meals  and clothing donations to the homeless around Southern California.

See Gary Leonard's photos in the accompanying gallery.

Barry Walker, who now owns a chain of spas--including The Raven Spa in Silver Lake--founded the event, which recently got official 501(c)3 nonprofit status.

It started 14 years ago, says Walker, when he was “squatting in an apartment in Silver Lake."

“The area was not as quite as nice as it is now,” he told us by phone from New York this week.

Indeed, one Thanksgiving morning, Walked looked outside and saw a homeless family he’d seen around for a while. “I decided I was going to do something good,” he said.

“I put together canned corn, green beans, some other stuff, whatever I could afford, “ he added. “But they weren’t there. They'd moved on.”

So Walker drove around his neighborhood, and he found some other homeless people to share his meal with.

The following year, he and his friends decided to try the same thing, and ended up feeding a few dozen homeless folks.

This year, about five thousand homeless people were fed out of the Echo Park Gobble Gobble Give.

Similar events took place in Brooklyn, Harlem, Austin and Las Vegas.

Walker still spends thousands of his own dollars.

But cash and in-kind donations also come in—as does the food and clothing individual volunteers contribute.

Echo owner Mitchell Frank also donated the use of his space.

Board member Rahm Tamir was in charge of the kitchen on Thursday. He’s helped out a a half a dozen Gobble Gobble Gives, with increasing responsibility.

He said the event is unique. He said most volunteers cook a potluck something--a pie, a turkey, a vegetable, some item in a "traditional Thanksgiving meal."

And they take reponsibility for finding homeless people to reach out to.

Tamir was worried that food would run out—as it did just before noon, until organizers bought some more—but says “he loves giving back in such a great environment.”

“Where else would you be helping out on a food line to a DJ?” he added.

Silver Lake resident Kiino Villand was that DJ, playing all the hits from the Echo stage Thursday.

Estonian-born, he started volunteering in the food lines several years ago and decided to take musical matters into his own hands this year.

He said the mix of ages and geography attending the event made danceable remixes of songs like Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” and classic reggae a good programming option.

And, it’s true, most folks seemed to be moving and having a great time.

Vouching for that on the foodlines below was another Silver Lake resident Kim Wagner.

She came out with her three children to help out—at the suggestion of founder Barry Walker, a family friend.

Walker spent his Thanksgiving morning in Harlem helping Gobble Gobble Give there get off the ground.

But later in the day, he was in Brooklyn at Wagner’s sister’s home for Thanksgiving dinner.

Wagner and her kids stood in line outside the Echo for several hours, moving slowing toward the entrance in the long line.

They were some of the last allowed in around noon, as food was running out.

According to one of the organizers, it was because more people showed up this year without the food donations on which the "potluck" depends.

Board member Charles Gayton was helpnig direct traffic on Thursday.

Like most on the Gobble Gobble Give board, he owns a small business.

He pointed out that Gobble Gobble Give’s new 501(c)3 status will help it grow, by making it easier for the group to accept cash to buy food to fill the gaps left by volunteers.

The donations will also help with expansion.

Next year, Gobble Gobble Give plans to launch in San Francisco, Houston and Dallas.

Each affiliate is vetted carefully and, according to Walker, receives some start-up support where merited.

But, let's hope, Echo Park will remain its home base--and Barry Walker, its main man.

Find out more about Gobble Gobble Give and how to support its potluck Thanksgivings here.

Gary Aminoff November 26, 2011 at 06:41 PM
Great story. Nice to see people helping people. That is really what America is about.
Anthea Raymond (Editor) November 26, 2011 at 06:55 PM
And great to see you Thursday Gary over turkey, some of which I am still enjoying!
Kiino Villand December 04, 2011 at 05:10 AM
Looking forward to Gobble Gobble Give every year now. It's become our family tradition. That it helps feed so many people is truly a wonderful thing. And naturally, as a participant it's incredibly rewarding knowing you're helping others. If this notion of helping the less fortunate could translate beyond the fall/winter holidays...that would be the ultimate success story in my eyes. Side note: in addition to dropping Aretha and reggae/ska classics, it was great seeing people get their assembly line groove on to local artists like Warpaint, Poolside, Toro y Moi, Robotanists and killer remixes by Tick (Mike D's Latch Brothers cohort). Woot woot!

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