City leaders share an early Thanksgiving meal with San José homeless

Mercury News November 22, 2017

The Thanksgiving holiday was made a little brighter for some of San José’s neediest residents, who were invited to a sit-down dinner Tuesday at Forager Tasting Room & Eatery in the SoFA District. It was a hope-inspiring scene to see about 100 people, most from the homeless encampments around downtown, eating a restaurant-caliber meal at Forager’s long dining tables, engaging in conversation, listening to music and having a brief respite from the challenges of surviving on the fringe.

“Giving Thanks in the Valley of the Heart’s Delight” was a group effort that blossomed at South Bay Church, where John Kim — director of operations for Adam’s Grub Truck — and Forager owner Heinz Jones collaborated on the idea of a community meal. To help galvanize volunteers, they brought in Justin Imamura, a local drummer who founded the Trash Punx — a volunteer group that works to beautify the city.

“We wanted to offer them a five-course meal, and instead of a typical soup kitchen style — where you wait in a line and get a styrofoam plate — we wanted to actually serve them and show them God’s love,” Imamura said. “It’s super passionate to me because I care for these people who are out on the streets. Hopefully, this will plant a seed to connect with these different organizations that can help get them off the street.”

And Imamura wasn’t alone in caring. San José Mayor Sam Liccardo, Councilman Raul Peralez, Assemblyman Ash Kalra and Pastor Scott Wagers of CHAM Ministries were among the dozens of people who sat side-by-side breaking bread and have dinner conversations with the invited guests. A legion of volunteers served food and prepared care packages of warm clothes for diners to take with them as they left.

Life didn’t get instantly better for the diners at Forager, but besides a warm meal, you would hope they came away with the message that they’re part of a greater community. And isn’t that the message we want to share at Thanksgiving?

HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS: It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in the Park at Plaza de Cesar Chavez. The annual holiday tradition in downtown San José opens Friday with a tree-lighting ceremony starting at 6 p.m. With a nod toward the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January at SAP Center, figure skating champs Polina Edmunds and Rudy Galindo, who both hail from the South Bay, will light the 58-foot community tree, which arrived last week from the Shasta Mountains.

The opening celebrations also will be a special headline performance by Luna Blaise, the teenage singer and actress who has a recurring role on ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat.” And, of course, Santa Claus will be arriving to kick off the season in jazzy style, I’m told.

The figure skating championships are also the reason why Christmas in the Park’s run is being extended a week this year to Jan. 7, 2018. Get more details on activities at www.christmasinthepark.com.

GREAT AMERICA’S HOLIDAY ENCORE: After a big success in its first year, California’s Great America is bringing back WinterFest, which opens Friday and runs through Dec. 30. 49ers Pro Bowler Joe Staley will light the holiday tree at the Santa Clara amusement park at 5:30 p.m. Friday. If you miss it, don’t worry: The tree is re-lit every night at 6 p.m. with nearly as much fanfare, but not as much football.

During WinterFest, the park gets a holiday makeover, with a limited number of rides open and other festivities like holiday-themed shows and music and ice skating in front of the double-decker Columbia carousel. Get ticket information and other details at www.cagreatamerica.com.

SKATING BY: For the first time, Downtown Ice will be offering skating lessons at SkateFest, an event sponsored by U.S. Figure Skating and Toyota that’s taking place at the outdoor rink in downtown San José this weekend. A pair of hour-long group lessons will be held from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday. Future lesson sessions will be held Dec. 17 and Jan. 6. Space is limited, with onsite registration beginning at 11:15 a.m. and advance registration available at https://fs12.formsite.com/USFSAIT/form2053/index.html.