Up until the Covid-19 pandemic, Roberto Hernandez was best known for his work on the annual Carnaval celebration. This year, he had a different kind of feat to perform: the acquisition and distribution of 7,000 turkeys for Thanksgiving.
Hernandez developed that figure after witnessing how many people he and the Latino Task Force are feeding each week at the Mission Food Hub. So, earlier this month, the entrepreneur launched an online crowdfunding campaign, asking for $200,000 to buy 7,000 turkeys. Money came pouring in from the community and, within a week, Hernandez had raised three-quarters of the funds. Money would not be a problem. Buying the turkeys, however, proved to be more difficult.
“Boy, was that a huge adventure and journey,” Hernandez said Wednesday morning as volunteers gave out the boxes of food.
First, he ordered almost 3,000 turkeys from Grocery Outlet before they told him they had no more to sell him. He then frantically called as many potential turkey vendors as he could think of — Costco, FoodsCo and Foster Farms. They all sold him some, but not enough. Safeway donated $25,000, which Hernandez said brought him to tears, but when he asked if he could buy some Safeway turkeys, they were out.
In the end, Hernandez managed to gather just under 6,000 turkeys. More than 2,400 were given out at the Food Hub on Wednesday, and 600 more were delivered directly to the homes of families unable to go to the line, such as those quarantining for Covid-19 and residents with disabilities. The remainder were given to other nonprofit organizations working with Latinx populations throughout the city, such as La Voz in the Tenderloin and Good Samaritan Family Resource Center in the Bayview. And, some 1,000 people in line today got chickens.
Despite falling short of his goal, Hernandez called the result a “turkey hunt miracle,” adding that he plans to spend his own Thanksgiving recovering from the ordeal.
“I want to sleep in, binge-watch something and have some food delivered,” Hernandez said, with a laugh.
Residents in the lines could be overheard sharing recipes for the food that was being given out, particularly the turkeys. However, the most pressing question for many families was not how to make the turkey, but who to share it with.
Maritza Miranda, who lives on Valencia Street, arrived at the food hub at around 7:30 a.m. equipped with a folding lawn chair, a wide cart for her food, and a matching black-and-red checkered mask and hoodie. She confessed that a woman standing on a corner saw her and allowed her to step into line, saving Miranda from having to go to the end of the line, more than two blocks away.
In previous years, Miranda would spend Thanksgiving with her daughter, her sister, her brother-in-law and their kids. This year, it would just be her and her 21-year-old daughter who lives with her.
“My sister and brother-in-law like going out way too much, it’s like they don’t even know we’re in a pandemic,” Miranda said in Spanish.
Miranda said she and her daughter are cautious because they fear the harm the virus could do. Miranda is considered high-risk simply because she is elderly, and her daughter has asthma and already struggles to breathe sometimes.
“Unfortunately, there are a lot of people acting like there’s no pandemic anymore,” she said.
Unlike Miranda, Benedicta Becerra, another woman in line at the food hub, was ecstatic to be gathering with her extended family on Thanksgiving.
Becerra, in line with her son Roger and her mother Julia, plans to take her turkey to her sister’s house, where the family will get together.
“I got to this country in 1992,” Becerra said, “But this will be my first time spending Thanksgiving with my family.”
Up until the pandemic, she had no time to be with then. Before getting laid off in March, she spent every morning from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. working at a restaurant at the Westin St. Francis hotel. After her shift, Becerra napped in her car for just under an hour, then went to work at a restaurant at the Fairmont Hotel from 3:30 p.m. to midnight.
Both jobs have been completely shut down since the start of shelter in place, so Becerra has been relying on a mix of unemployment assistance, her savings, and the Mission Food Hub. The only good thing to come out of the job loss is that Becerra can now spend more time with her family, even on the holidays.
“Since we’re family, we’re safe,” Becerra said when asked whether she or any of her extended family is worried about contracting coronavirus during Thanksgiving. “If somebody is sick, they’d communicate it with the rest of us,” Becerra added.
This year, spending the holiday with her family after years away from them was her priority.
“Hay que tener fe,” Becerra said in conclusion. This means, “We must have faith.”