Twenty-six years ago, Frank Garcia gave away Thanksgiving Day dinner at his Anaheim restaurant, La Casa Garcia, to the needy of Orange County.
Since then, his annual giveaway has turned into a massive undertaking that feeds some 15,000 for free.
On Thursday, at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Garcia and about 1,500 volunteers worked to dish out turkey, dressing, pie and more to low-income Orange County residents.
But Garcia, pictured below, almost didn't make it to the event he spawned. He suffered chest pains on Wednesday and had to make an emergency visit to the doctor.
But he was able to make it to the huge stadium, saying he would miss his Thanksgiving feast, now organized by the nonprofit he founded, We Give Thanks, Inc.
"I go through the line every year and talk to all the people that are there. People are crying and saying thank you for doing it," Garcia said.
And, indeed, many attendees at the event – which necessitates the cooking of some 1,000 turkeys – expressed how happy they were to have a free holiday meal in the mild Southern California sunshine.
“I’m thankful for this Thanksgiving feast. It is actually scrumptious and it just gives me hope," said a man who gave his name as Angel.
On the other side of serving lines, there was another longstanding tradition: families that volunteer every year.
McKenzie Purcifull, a 16 year old from Newport Beach, said helping at Garcia's event is meaningful for her family. She was dishing out gravy.
"It just makes me realize how much I have and not to take anything for granted," she said.