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Norco man organizes free holiday feast
10:00 PM PST on Monday, November 19, 2007
By ALICIA ROBINSON
NORCO - For those who get stuck working a holiday shift, cannot scrape together the money for a turkey, or do not have a family to gather around the table, Brent Sakamoto will fulfill their Thanksgiving needs.
On Thursday he will host a free dinner of turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and vegetables, pies and desserts, and he expects the turnout to exceed the 400 people who came last year. It is the fifth year for the free dinner and Sakamoto's fourth year as its organizer.
A six-year Norco resident, Sakamoto started as a volunteer at the first dinner and ended up taking over the event. When he used to work as a security manager for grocery stores, he saw people steal turkeys because they had no money for a holiday dinner, he said, and he wanted to help.
This dinner is for them. It is also for people who are alone at the holidays, like Sakamoto was when his fiancée died 12 years ago in a horseback-riding accident.
And it is for people who are simply new in town and do not know where to go, like a woman who came to one of the dinners and said she had planned to go to McDonald's before she heard about the Thanksgiving meal.
This year's dinner is at Silverado Burgers and Mexican Food, the same location as earlier years but now under new management. Silverado owner Israel Padilla said he liked the idea of hosting the dinner because "now, with the fires, a lot of people do not have any house and they want to eat something, like with a family."
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Kurt Miller / The Press-Enterprise
Brent Sakamoto, right, holds a turkey in the kitchen of Silverado Burgers and Mexican Food, where owner Israel Padilla, left, said he liked the idea of hosting the Thanksgiving dinner. "My Thanksgiving day, the best part of it is seeing people happy," Sakamoto says. He also gives a free Christmas dinner at the Lions Club.
Sakamoto also gives a free Christmas dinner at the Lions Club, which will celebrate its fourth year next month.
Julie Roy, a Norco resident who helped at last year's Christmas dinner with her boyfriend, said she is not sure why Sakamoto does it, but she knows he works hard to make the dinners happen.
"He puts a lot of effort into it and who knows how much money out of his own pocket," she said.
A lot of Sakamoto's work is handing out fliers, collecting donations from area businesses and finding volunteers. He does supplement the donated food with whatever else is needed, and he helps a little with the cooking, he said.
The Sixth Street restaurant where the dinner is traditionally held has changed owners several times, so securing a location has been one of Sakamoto's biggest challenges, he said. "It always happens. It's almost a miracle, but we always have enough food."
Sakamoto sees even more guests in the dinner's future. Faced with the possibility of feeding hundreds more, he says bring 'em on.
The free holiday dinner seems to feed more than just stomachs for some. Roy said volunteering was one of the most rewarding things she has done.
"At first we were like, 'Why are we even here, we don't know anybody,' but once we got started it was warm, it was positive," she said. "We got more out of it than the people getting the free meal."
Turkey and stuffing are Sakamoto's favorite holiday foods, he said, but there is something he likes better.
"My Thanksgiving day, the best part of it is seeing people happy," he said.
Name: Brent Sakamoto
Interests: Feeding people at the holidays. Since 2004, Sakamoto has organized and hosted free dinners at Thanksgiving and Christmas not only for the needy, but for anyone who has nowhere else to go or no family to share holidays with.
Quote: "Brent's wonderful. I can't imagine how many hundreds of hours he puts in on this," said Norco resident Julie Roy, a volunteer at the 2006 Christmas dinner.
Categories: Press Enterprise