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Due to the challenges brought forth by COVID-19, more families than usual may find themselves food insecure this holiday season. But a number of local organizations are looking to partner with the community to feed more than 1,000 families this Thanksgiving.

More than half of Santa Monica College’s 31,500 students have been identified as food insecure, meaning they lack reliable access to a sufficient amount of affordable, nutritious food. And SMC President Kathryn E. Jeffery recently noted that even the most conservative estimates predict the number of households without dependable access to nutritious food has, at the very least, doubled.

“Behind those numbers are real people, members of our communities,” Jeffery added. But thanks to the “We are Santa Monica” initiative, Santa Monica families and SMC students will have one less thing to worry about this Thanksgiving.

The newly launched initiative — which is sponsored by the City, SMC, SMC Foundation, Boys and Girls Club of Santa Monica, and Community Corporation of Santa Monica — calls on residents to donate to the cause by visiting santamonicacollegefoundation.org/thanksgiving. Every $50 donated equates to a Thanksgiving feast for one family, and the goal is to raise $50,000.

“This Thanksgiving, we have an opportunity to lift up local families in need and remember the joy that generosity and gratitude bring,” Interim City Manager Lane Dilg said. “Santa Monica thrives when we help each other. This is one of many chances to give in a year when we must, more than ever before, come together as a community.”

The drive-thru Giving Thanks holiday pantry will take place Tuesday, Nov. 24, on SMC’s main campus, but the event is not open to the general public so families and individuals are required to make advanced reservations through the various participating organizations.

It is expected that up to 1,500 families and students will be served fresh turkey, produce, dinner rolls, non-alcoholic beverages, and a pumpkin pie, which is a similar combination to the meals that will be provided at Mount Olive Lutheran Church’s own drive-through dinner event that’s set to happen on Thanksgiving Day.

“We’ve always hosted a Thanksgiving Day dinner but since we can’t have dinner in-person with COVID, we’re instead doing a drive through hot-food carry out,” Rev. Eric C. Shafer said. “It begins at 11 a.m. and will go until we run out. We expect to have 150 meals that are a full dinner complete with turkey and all the servings. It’ll be hot and ready to take home and eat.”

Shafer added the church also launched a “Little Pantry” program about a week ago to provide free goods to neighbors who find themselves in need of a regular meal as well as Thanksgiving dinner.

“This is a thing happening across the country. They’re like the little libraries you’ll see around town, and we fill it every day,” which is kind of a bad news, good news situation, Shafer said. “The good news is we can always refill it but the bad news is there is obviously a huge need in the area.”

The Little Pantry is located at the church’s property on Maple Street near 14th Street, and families are welcomed to grab anything they need at any time. “I think that’s one of the best things about it — the fact that it’s anonymous. So, if you’re feeling embarrassed, you can come in the middle of the night and that way nobody has to see you,” Shafer said.

Because only certain foods fit in the box, Mt. Olive is asking residents to donate cash that could then be used to purchase different food. “However, there is a red barrel outside the church office and we’re always taking donations of food, water and blankets for the homeless,” Shafer said, stating residents who wish to donate to the church can do so online at mtolivelutheranchurch.org.

“If there ever was a time to give, it is now,” said Margaret Sohagi, SMC Foundation’s Board chair. “It is hard—nearly impossible—for those among us who may not suffer from food insecurity to imagine just how painful and demoralizing it is.”

Sohagi added, “It behooves us to come together to help our neighbors.”

Brennon@smdp.com