By ARMAND EMAMDJOMEH
This Thanksgiving Eve, the question at Valencia Gardens was: Who let the turkey out of the bag? A few donated turkeys, some residents said, trotted away to undeserving households, siphoned off by those trusted to hand them out.
Demetria Page, vice president of the Valencia Gardens Residents Council, accused employees of the Mission Housing Development Corporation and community volunteers of taking about 30 turkeys donated by City Team Ministry. The birds were part of 40 turkeys and 160 chickens destined for 200 food kits to be donated to the housing project’s 700 residents.
“I received numerous complaints” from residents, said Lolita Eddings, council president.
“I heard only 10 turkeys got out to residents,” she said, adding that the turkey caper was under investigation by the council.
The plot begins when the City Team Ministry, new to giving away turkeys in this fashion, delivered 40 turkeys to Valencia Gardens. When residents lined up two hours early on Saturday for the 4 p.m. distribution by Mission Housing, Page said, Martín Ugarte, site services director for Valencia Gardens, announced only 10 turkeys would be distributed. Lola Escadero, number 16 in line, wasn’t happy.
“As soon as I got up there, Molly said ‘oh, there’s no more turkeys,’” said Escadero, referring to another employee of Mission Housing.
“I think they took them,” she said.
Trudy Reed, community outreach manager for City Team Ministry, confirmed that 40 turkeys were donated directly to the Gardens.
“As far as I know everything was smooth” at the distribution, Reed said. “I have never had any problems with Martín,” she added.
He is “aboveboard and honest,” Reed said. The two have worked together for about a year, and last summer distributed backpacks to resident schoolchildren.
In a scene befitting an Argentine military junta, however, Page said that under the cover of darkness, she watched a volunteer stuffing two turkeys into her car and another three turkeys into her daughter’s SUV on Friday night.
“I guess they thought that late nobody would witness what they were doing,” Page said.
She also said she saw Ugarte exiting the complex with a turkey in his backpack.
For his part, Ugarte denies any wrongdoing, saying that the claims are the result of residents unhappy that they did not receive a turkey.
“We never said we would be giving away turkeys, we said we would be giving away food boxes,” said Ugarte. He said he didn’t know how many turkeys the Gardens had received.
Ugarte described an overall positive reaction from community members to the Thanksgiving efforts, and said some residents are complaining simply because they failed to line up early enough to receive a turkey.
Figuring out how many turkeys were actually handed out, he said, is impossible. Residents signed a sheet when they received a food kit, but the sheet did not specify whether they had received a chicken or a turkey in their kit. This could not be independently confirmed as Vincent Alvarenga, property manager of the Gardens, had possession of the sheet.
Alvarenga said he was unable to comment for this article due to the policies of his employer, John Stewart Company, a property management firm.
Peaches Merchant, a volunteer at the giveaway (but not the one who allegedly disappeared five turkeys into her car and SUV), hinted at a more sinister conspiracy by a coterie of residents.
“They want to take over Valencia Gardents,” Merchant said. “They’re doing anything and everything to take over.”
She proffered yet another estimate for the number of turkeys at the giveaway.
“It looked to me like 20.”
Reed supported Ugarte and Mission Housing. “There’s nowhere to hide 30 turkeys” in the Valencia Gardens complex, she said.
Eddings, the council president, said she was not present at the food handout because she was getting her children fitted for quincañera outfits. According to her, housing services told the residents’ council they were “not needed.” The council, however, refrained from pointing fingers until all their turkeys are in a row.
“Where did they go? I don’t know,” Eddings said. “I’m in investigation mode.”
While the case remains unsolved, at least one thing is sure, according to Reed, a six-year veteran of the Ministries.
“We will not be giving turkeys out next year.”