Thanksgiving tables laden with food after box distribution helps scores of families

Nov. 23—A common scene unfolds today across Kern County homes.

Mouth-watering aromas suffuse warm homes bursting with laughter and love. Perhaps a sports game plays in the background while fancy dinnerware cradles glistening cranberry sauce next to stuffing and turkey drenched in gravy.

That's a reality for some.

But not for all.

"We have nothing for Thanksgiving," said April Coursey, who worries about satiating 12 to 13 rumbling stomachs.

"Eggs? Beans?" Perla Gonzalez Mata, 42, proposed when asked about her Thanksgiving meal plan.

"Probably whatever we could dig out the cabinet," replied Anna Camacho, 43.

But each woman packed her car at Standard Middle School with a turkey, green beans, five pounds of potatoes, a pumpkin pie, canned corn, stuffing, olives, cranberry sauce and gravy early Wednesday morning for their families eagerly awaiting a Thanksgiving dinner.

Bakersfield North Rotary and the Standard School District picked out families to receive heavy food boxes during their Thanksgiving Basket project and distributed them Wednesday. It's a tradition Rotarians have practiced for 22 years because givers receive a greater reward than the Thanksgiving box recipients, according to Bakersfield North Rotary President Jeff Barnhard.

Indeed, Standard District students and Rotarians warmly greeted families rolling into the drive-thru as they presented their voucher. Volunteers asked where the box should be placed in the cars, and all exchanged greetings of "Happy Thanksgiving" and passengers waved goodbye as they hurried home to prepare the fixings.

"There could be four people in a car," Barnhard added while gazing out at the cars idling on North Chester Avenue an hour after the distribution started. "There could be over a thousand people that are coming through."

But hearty food isn't all that's doled to families.

The box is a chance for the Camachos to spend their Thanksgiving under one roof and carry out their traditions. Mother Anna Camacho would have shipped her three daughters to their grandma's house to fill their bellies with a traditional meal.

A large swatch of the Camacho family was taken out from COVID-19 and other health problems, she added. Their Thanksgiving tradition — which stretches back generations — included listing their thankful circumstances, praying for a better future and spreading leftover food to homeless people, daughter Emily Camacho, 17, chimed in.

"We still want (Thanksgiving) to keep going on in their memories," Emily added.

April Coursey said her family eats in honor of her uncle, who died on Thanksgiving, to keep his memory alive.

Tradition for Melissa Klawitter involves filling her home with turkey roasts and pies. But bills keep piling up as surgeries, home costs and inflation stretched her wallet.

"It was almost a guilty feeling ... accepting (the box)," Klawitter said. She cried for two hours upon learning she qualified for a box because others' tables remain bare.

But, one element drew her into the line Wednesday. It's a quality that unites every American, no matter their race or creed.

"I am just making sure my family gets fed," Klawitter said.

You can reach Ishani Desai at 661-395-7417. You can also follow her at @_ishanidesai on Twitter.