The emphasis was on giving during the recent Soboba Drive-Thru Turkey Giveaways for families struggling with the ability to have a fulfilling Thanksgiving holiday. The Soboba Foundation and the Soboba Casino Resort partnered with the cities, local agencies and school districts of Hemet and San Jacinto to provide more than 2,000 meal boxes to some of its neediest residents.
Soboba Foundation President Dondi Silvas was one of many volunteers at the two events, held on Nov. 20 and Nov. 21. She was thankful for all the other volunteers that showed up to help make both days a huge success.
“For me personally, being able to hand out Thanksgiving dinners to families in our valley has truly been a humbling experience,” she said. “2020 has been crazy and everyone has experienced difficult times but seeing the gratitude on the faces of families receiving these Thanksgiving dinners was such a blessing. I want to give a special thank you to Soboba’s Sponsorship Coordinator Andrew Vallejos and the Food and Beverage team at the Soboba Casino Resort plus a huge shoutout to Sysco Foods for working diligently on our request to help make Soboba Foundation’s dream a reality.”
The meal box pickups began at 1 p.m. on Nov. 20 at the Hemet Unified School District office as previously identified families who were given vouchers lined up to drive through and receive their meal boxes that contained cans of yams, cranberry sauce, corn, green beans and gravy. Dinner rolls and bags of cornbread stuffing mix filled out the pre-packaged boxes. Frozen items were delivered to pallets as the event began so that each family also received a 22-pound turkey, a bag of seasoned mashed potatoes and a pumpkin pie.
Soboba Tribal Council Sergeant at arms Daniel Valdez stayed busy loading meal boxes into trunks and trucks for Hemet families during the four-hour giveaway.
“I love that Soboba gives back as much as it does – it’s great to help out the community,” he said.
Although Vince Record works at SJUSD, he volunteered to work traffic control during HUSD’s drive-thru event. He is the current chairman of Hemet San Jacinto Chamber of Commerce, which supports both districts and businesses within both cities. About five other chamber board members volunteered at both events.
“We appreciate the generosity of Soboba and we are happy to do what we can to help – it’s a worthy cause,” he said.
Miriam Ortiz, a Parent Engagement Specialist at HUSD, said most school sites have parent liaisons who were able to identify their neediest families. Despite distance learning being in place, staff has done what it can to stay in touch with students.
“For people in my type of role, it’s heartbreaking not to be able to connect families to resources,” she said. “That’s why today is so important. We have had to say ‘no’ so many times this year it’s exciting to be able to say ‘yes’ to something for them.”
Ortiz said more than 900 turkey meal boxes were prepared to give out to families with students at the Hemet-area schools and that HUSD’s nutrition services staff delivered 50 meal boxes to outlying schools in Idyllwild and Anza.
“We are extremely grateful for the generous donation that we received from the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians Foundation, our community partners that served as volunteers, and all of the HUSD staff that made this joyful event possible,” she said.
Working with local agencies, the Soboba Foundation was also able to donate meal boxes to needy families that don’t have children attending schools in either district. Churches and other nonprofits were able to identify people who are struggling and were grateful to be included. Valley Community Pantry Executive Director Jim Lineberger said he was surprised and excited to receive the complete meal boxes. He said that because of COVID his agency did not receive an expected 175 turkeys, so this donation was a real blessing. He said the 250 meals were primarily given to people whose businesses were affected by COVID, such as cooks, waitresses and waiters currently not able to work.
“Soboba has always been one of the largest supporters of our organization,” Lineberger said. “They always seem to come through when sometimes we feel nothing will happen this year. We love the long partnership and not just what they do for us, but for this entire valley.”
The following day, a drive-thru event was held at San Jacinto High School. Cars were greeted by SJUSD staff with festive signs as they drove in front of the Soboba Aquatic Center to redeem vouchers provided to the students’ families. The parking lot was set up in an assembly line fashion, starting with an empty box that was wheeled on a cart to each stop to have one of the “trimmings” added. About 150 volunteers turned out to assist in the process and greet families as they drove through the line while upbeat music played from loudspeakers.
Riverside County Sheriff’s Captain Leonard Purvis said he felt the giveaways were an excellent way for the communities to come together for something positive.
“I’m so happy to see all the smiles as the vehicles pull up,” he said. “This is the real deal. Soboba doesn’t just donate – they are not shy about getting in and digging deep with everyone chipping in. There are Tribal Council members here and some from the Soboba Foundation – it’s amazing.”
Soboba Tribal Council Chairman Isaiah Vivanco said last year only turkeys were given away.
“We had this idea that with everything going on this year, we wanted to make a bigger difference in the community and provide entire Thanksgiving meals,” he said. “We worked in partnership with the cities and school districts like we’ve done in the past – it’s just bigger than before. It’s awesome that we have all this support here.”
Tribal Council Secretary Monica Herrera said she was happy to help out for such a good cause and felt the logistics were well thought out, allowing hundreds of vehicles to move through the lines quickly and efficiently.
“Soboba is always there to help out the community – it’s great,” San Jacinto Deputy City Manager Tom Prill said as he added dinner rolls to the passing meal boxes.
A mom whose child attends an SJUSD school contacted school board member Jasmin Rubio to share her gratitude.
“I was so beyond touched by this act of kindness,” the young mother wrote. “I was in tears by the time they were loading up my car. I was truly blessed, as was my family. I felt so loved; it made my heart so glad. I can’t thank Soboba and the school district for everything they did. It truly meant the world to us. We all miss normal, but my heart was filled today.”
Photos courtesy of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians