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Claremont Courier - A Local Nonprofit Newsroom

Turkey day never tasted so good

It’s two days before Thanksgiving, and the multipurpose room at St. Ambrose Episcopal Church is buzzing with activity.

About three dozen volunteers are chopping onions, breaking bread for stuffing and prepping hundreds of turkeys for the annual Thanksgiving Day meal for the homeless. They range in age from members of Boy Scout Troop 214 to seniors.

From 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. that day, the volunteers will tirelessly work to get the food ready in time for the holiday.

At the center of it all is Kim McCurdy, the 67-year-old Claremont resident who has been in charge of the Thanksgiving food giveaway for 25 years. When the COURIER dropped by the church to chat with her, she was hard at work, helping out with making food, determined to be ready for Turkey Day.

But this year marks the end of an era: after a quarter-century at the helm, Ms. McCurdy has decided to step away.

“I’m getting old, I need to retire,” she said.

The person willing to take over the reins must be able to do the job of two people—Ms. McCurdy and her business partner, Gayle Jensen. The two women are an inseparable team, and operate a catering business together.

Ms. Jensen is retiring this year, which spurred Ms. McCurdy to scale back as well.

“Gayle’s my partner. I can’t do it without her,” she said.

But the spirit that cemented her place as one of the Pomona Valley’s most dedicated homeless advocates still remains. She will still regularly feed the homeless population she has come to know and love.

“I want to quit, but my heart doesn’t allow me,” she said with a laugh. “I try to walk away, but I just love them.”

Ms. McCurdy loves to talk about walking through Pomona and Claremont, giving food to those in need. There’s the story of how a homeless person pledged to offer round-the-clock protection of Ms. McCurdy as she made her weekly visits.

There’s also the story of how a homeless person stood guard by her car when she tried to flag down a locksmith after locking her keys inside, even after he got a loitering ticket in the process.

“I had to go to court and get him out of it,” Ms. McCurdy recalled.

Thanksgiving, in particular, holds special significance. The story goes like this: Ms. McCurdy made such a massive Thanksgiving feast; she had too much leftover food. She came up with the idea of giving the leftovers to the homeless, and her love of giving back was born.

Now, 25 years later, Ms. McCurdy and her team feed up to 3,000 people per year. This year, the group plans to feed around 2,000 people, Ms. McCurdy said.

Ms. McCurdy noted that the food isn’t just for the region’s homeless. Seniors who cannot cook and students who could not go home for the holiday are also welcome. In essence, anyone who is hungry can grab a bite.

She’s had help from high places—LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis donated 20 turkeys, and gave her a certificate of appreciation for her work.

The turkeys are usually available around 11 a.m. Thanksgiving day, sometimes sooner, Ms. McCurdy said. They will be given out at three different locations, including St. Ambrose—The BETA Center at 209 Pearl Street in Pomona and in the parking lot of 222 Foothill Boulevard in Pomona.

If turkeys are left after the holiday, they are donated to the small seaside community of Erendira, close to Ensenada in Baja California, Mexico, Ms. Jensen said.

Jullie McCurdy, Ms. McCurdy’s daughter, is also heavily involved with her mother’s charity work, and has stories of her mother’s selflessness with the homeless. She counts her mother as her role model.

“I can tell you a story: my mom came home and we were like, ‘Where are your shoes?’” The younger Ms. McCurdy said. “She actually gave the shoes off her feet to somebody in the street.”

As she recalled the years working with her mother, she came to an interesting realization.

“I was just telling my friend, honestly in my whole life I only remember one Thanksgiving I’ve had at home,” Jullie McCurdy said.

“We’ve been feeding the homeless the whole time,” her mother responded. Ms. McCurdy noted that in her years of assisting the homeless, she has helped 20 people off the street and into homes, working with local groups such as the Claremont Homeless Advocacy Program (CHAP).

“You know, it’s like Mother Teresa said—if you help one person and that’s all you can do, that’s good enough,” she said.  The Thanksgiving meal will take place from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at St. Ambrose Church, 830 W. Bonita Ave., Claremont.

—Matthew Bramlett

news@claremont-courier.com

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