Editor’s Note: This is the first in our annual holiday series called Those Who Give spotlighting a few of the many groups and people in Long Beach offering help to others. To suggest a potential subject for a future story, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
What would Thanksgiving be without the turkey and a few houseguests?
Those who volunteer for Volunteer Action for Aging (VAA) don’t want anyone in their community to find out. That’s why they will be hard at work Thanksgiving Day to bring 2,000 turkey feasts and some holiday cheer to low-income senior citizens in the Long Beach area.
VAA is a volunteer service program that operates year-round under Independence at Home, a nonprofit care management organization that supports disabled adults and homebound seniors. Independence at Home is a division of SCAN Health Plan. This is the 20th year the VAA has distributed Thanksgiving meals.
Denise Likar, director of programs for Independence at Home, has been participating in the organization’s Thanksgiving event for the past decade — she brings her husband, son and daughter to help out, too.
“Our volunteers come out on Thanksgiving morning and get pumped up really fast when they realize the good we are doing,” Likar said. “The people we reach out to are alone and might have health conditions that prevent them from leaving their homes very often. In some situations, they have outlived their family. On holidays especially, these people feel alone.”
Likar has watched seniors’ eyes light up when her family arrives to bring them a Thanksgiving meal. She said that some of the seniors will talk to a volunteer for hours — or at least as long as the volunteers are willing to stay.
“There is a huge need out there,” Likar said. “It puts your own life in perspective.”
There will be more than 700 volunteers — many bring their families — picking up hot meals at the VAA office in Signal Hill before making deliveries. Enough volunteers have signed up to participate this year, but the VAA seeks volunteers and donations year-round for other programs that help seniors in need.
“We are very grateful for community support,” Likar said. “I’ve been here 10 years, and in that time I’ve seen this program grow from 150 meals on Thanksgiving to 2,000 meals. This is our 20th anniversary of delivering Thanksgiving meals, and we are so grateful we can do this.”
Colette Encalada, manager with Independence at Home, shared similar sentiments about the Thanksgiving meal delivery. She, too, brings her family to the event to help deliver meals.
“You knock on the door and these people are so appreciative,” Encalada said. “Once I knocked on one man’s door and he was so excited for the meal that he already had his TV tray set up.”
She said that giving back on Thanksgiving has become a new holiday tradition for her family as well as many others involved with Volunteer Action for Aging.
“By the end of the afternoon, we are all exhausted, but it is all worth it in the end,” Encalada said. “This is such a good thing.”
For details about Volunteer Action for Aging, which has an office at 2501 Cherry Ave. in Signal Hill, call 637-7116 or visit www.independenceathome.org. Although the organization has enough donations and volunteers for Thanksgiving this year, donations and volunteers are needed year-round for different VAA programs.