The owners of Willy’s Bagels and Blends have partnered with Cornerstone Fellowship, Kaleidoscope and a multitude of other local businesses, charities and community groups to organize and host the inaugural Street Feast, a community Thanksgiving event that will offer free holiday meals to anyone looking for support and kindness this season. Turkey Day is more than a month away, but the Street Feast team is vigorously planning this unique venture so that everyone in East County can celebrate Thanksgiving this year.
“My family has always done what we can to support the community,” said Ryan Richardson, owner of Willy’s. “We’ve been very involved with schools and other local charities, but after the Save Freshmen Sports campaign this summer, we realized that the community does want to help out those in need – they just don’t always know how to help.
“Through our foundation, Willy’s United, we’re partnering with other groups and businesses to put on the community’s first, all-inclusive Thanksgiving event. Brentwood hasn’t seen an event like this before, but we hope it will become a tradition.”
During the summer, Willy’s was one of many local businesses holding fundraisers to raise the $48,000 needed to maintain the frosh sports program in the Liberty Union High School District this school year. Based on the outpouring of support, Richardson believes Brentwood and surrounding communities will come together again – this time to provide free Thanksgiving meals to those in need on Nov. 25.
While the event will be held at Towne Center in Brentwood, all residents of East County are invited. There are even plans to set up a shuttle service to get the area’s homeless to downtown Brentwood on Thanksgiving so that everyone in need has the opportunity to spend the holiday in a warm and welcoming environment.
As part of Street Feast, Richardson and the Street Feast team intend to provide free turkey dinners, complete with all the fixings, as well as fun and games for families. The Street Feast team will be purchasing prepackaged Thanksgiving meal boxes assembled by the Treasure Box program, and volunteer cooks will prepare the meals at home and bring the turkeys and the side dishes to the Cornerstone facility on Thanksgiving.
The event will feature bounce houses for the kids, and TVs will be set up at Cornerstone, where holiday football games will be broadcast. Guests may take home nonperishable food from a pantry of donated items, and a Community Closet will be filled with donated, gently used and laundered clothing. Food and clothing donations are currently being accepted at Willy’s (1155 Second St.) and Cornerstone (1185 Second St.).
When Richardson pitched the idea to Nancy Torres, a member of the Byron-based cancer support group Kaleidoscope, she was immediately on board.
“Ryan and his family have found a way to put their finger on the pulse of the community,” Torres said. “There are droves of people and their families who could use an extra hand these days, but instead of being overwhelmed by this task, the Richardsons have aligned themselves with other community organizations and local businesses to ask a simple question: ‘How can we help?’ Now we’ve all accidentally on purpose become connected to help the community as a whole.”
While Richardson is spearheading the project, he has no intention of taking credit for the idea. “We’ve (Willy’s) always tried to help out when we’ve heard about a group in need. We’re located at the center of town and we see a lot of traffic, but rather than make it about us, we want to partner with other organizations to help the community.”
Enter Billy Rieder, Cornerstone Fellowship pastor. While the status of the country’s economy varies depending on whom you talk to and what news outlet you read or watch, Rieder said East County is still feeling the pinch of the recession – there are families who need help. While people tend to be more charitable during the holidays, many organizations focus their holiday charity efforts on the December holidays. Thanksgiving is often overlooked, so an event such as Street Feast is needed now more than ever, and Rieder and Cornerstone’s congregation have happily joined the effort.
“Even though the community is hurting, we still need to remember to give thanks,” Rieder said. “We’re all going through hardships, but that’s not a reason to not give thanks this year. By having this event, we hope to inject a shot of hope into the community. A lot of people who are down on their luck think that no one cares, but the community will take care of its own. By offering a free meal and a day of fellowship, we hope to extend that hand up to the community and let them know we are here and want to help.”
Roger Gehring, a patron of Cornerstone Fellowship and an organizer of God’s Kingdom Team (also part of the Street Feast effort), believes the event’s mission is as simple as extending the hand of friendship to the community while offering people a place to get a free meal and enjoy camaraderie.
“We’re promoting ‘hi’ – that’s all we want to do is say ‘hi’ and reach out to our community and give a hand up to people,” said Gehring. “It’s our jobs as humans to look out for one another and not just in time of need. I think this event could start a revolution of community support. I think a lot of people have wanted to do this for a long time, but we just needed a group of people to step up and get it going.”
Richardson expects 3,000 people and is welcoming anyone and everyone to come help out and take part in the inaugural event. “If we can make a difference for just one person, then all this planning is worth it,” he said. “I know it’s a cliché and that’s what people always say about stuff like this, but I mean it. I want this event to make a difference for at least one person. I want them to open their eyes and see that the community has opened their hearts.”
Street Feast is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 25 from 1 to 5 p.m. at 1185 Second St. in Brentwood. As the effort is still in the planning stages, the Street Feast team is looking for more community partners and volunteers. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 925-727-9208. Para información en español, llame 925-634-4445.