TUSTIN, Calif. - There are an estimated 38 million Americans suffering from food insecurity, including some 12 million children.
It’s why holiday food handout events are so important. That includes "Unity in the Community" in Peppertree Park in Tustin where there is music in the air. Children are playing. Families are eating a 3-course Thanksgiving meal.
Among them are Jamie Grace and her family. With each bite there are memories and some are not that good.
As Grace reflects she says, "We used to push a shopping cart around."
But, there was often no food in that cart.
She continues, "My husband and I used to be homeless and we didn’t have a kitchen or anywhere to cook food or even yet have a holiday meal."
As she sat in the park with her family and several dozen others chewing down on turkey, yams, stuffing, pies and more, she explained there were days she didn’t know where her next meal was coming from.
Sometimes it came from the trash!
Tyron Jackson heads up the project he calls Operation Warm Wishes.
He says, "I know people that haven’t eaten in days. I know families that this is their first home-cooked meal in days."
Jackson knows what these families have been going through because he too has been there.
He explains, "In my youth, I was homeless a couple of years."
Now 39, he’s proud of his work to help the unhoused and needy and he never forgets trying to survive as a teen through his family’s tough times; a family of 5 kids, mom and stepdad.
He says the family lived in a couple of motels.
"Can you imagine," he says. "Seven of us living in a motel room and having to sleep on the floor. There were times when we had lots of food at home. There were times we had nothing. We had to scrape up pennies and quarters and do those things in order to make ends meet."
Throughout the year, he helps others with programs from his nonprofit.
It’s why he started Operation Warm Wishes 14 years ago this week and why people like Jamie Grace and family mean so much to him.
When we asked why he tries to help young people, Jackson says, "We understand when there’s no food at home. When there’s no groceries at home the kids will go do negative things and we’re all about prevention."
As people left, they left with a gift, which included bags of food designed to last a few more days.
Meanwhile, Jamie Grace’s daughter Riley is 3-years-old. When you ask her what is Thanksgiving. She answers, "Eating!"
As for Jackson, he made a sizeable personal sacrifice this year for his event. He sold his personal car a 2011 BMW. He didn’t get enough donations this year, likely due to the community's financial fallout from the pandemic.
To supplement the cost and not have to cancel the event, he sold the car and is using the nonprofit’s van to drive around.
Donations can be made at www.OperationWarmWishes.com or Venmo @OperationWarmWishes.
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