More than 100 tribal members and volunteers help distribute 10,000 turkeys donated by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians in southern California (Photo: Courtesy of the Morongo Band of Mission Indians)

Morongo’s Thanksgiving Turkey Giveaway Tops 10,000

Gale Courey Toensing
11/20/12

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians has given out thousands of turkeys over the years, but this year’s donation tops them all – 10,000 Thanksgiving turkeys will be distributed in southern California for the holiday.

This is the Morongo Bands’ 27th Annual Thanksgiving Outreach. In recent years, Morongo has given away 9,000 turkeys annually, and this year’s donation sets a new record. Nearly 70,000 turkeys have been donated since the program began.

On November 14 and 15, more than 100 tribal members and volunteers, including school children, helped distribute truckloads of frozen turkeys donated by the Morongo Band to 113 nonprofit organizations across southern California. The groups will use the turkeys to prepare an estimated 220,000 Thanksgiving Day meals for seniors, veterans and families who wouldn’t otherwise get to enjoy a holiday dinner this Thanksgiving season.

Philanthropy is part of the Morongo Band’s tradition, Morongo Tribal Councilman Tom Linton said. “People of all backgrounds and ages continue to struggle to get by in the face of the very difficult economic conditions that are gripping our region. At Morongo, we have always strived to help others, even as our own tribe struggled to survive. Giving is a part of who we are, and we feel fortunate to be able to help others in need,” Linton said.

The Morongo Band has 35,000 acres of land at the foot of the San Giorgonio and San Jacinto mountains. The Morongo Reservation was one of nine small reservations set aside by President Ulysses S. Grant by executive order in 1865, according to the band’s website. In 1983—five years before the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act was passed – the Morongo Band started a modest bingo hall and its fortunes changed forever. The bingo operation developed into one of the oldest and most successful Indian gaming resort casinos in the country.

Pastor Raymond E. Smith of the Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Desert Hot Springs said the turkeys will feed hundreds of people in his community. “In this difficult economy, the need for such charity keeps growing, and we are very grateful to Morongo for striving to meet those needs,” Smith said.

Pastor Victor Archuleta at Victory Outreach in Banning said his group will use the 125 turkeys it will receive from Morongo to put on a holiday dinner for the homeless and to aid the needy. “Our ministry really reaches out to families that are struggling,” said Archuleta. “It’s tremendous to see what Morongo is doing. They are meeting the needs of a lot of people in the community. Without Morongo, a lot of people would be going without this holiday.”

Non-profit groups receiving turkeys range from the Los Angeles Mission to area food pantries like Carol’s Kitchen, groups supporting homeless and struggling families, numerous chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and dozens of churches and ministries. “With Morongo’s generosity, our organization will be able to provide Thanksgiving dinners – with all the fixings – to the families of more than 100 deployed Marines based out of Camp Pendleton, and we couldn’t do it without the tribe’s assistance,” said Steve Johnson of the Western Eagle Foundation, a Temecula food bank.

Herb Smith, president of The Los Angeles Mission, gratefully accepted 300 turkeys for his organization, which serves hundreds of poor and homeless men, women and children in the city’s Skid Row area. “Sharing is a tradition that epitomizes the best of cultural backgrounds. Every year our friends from the Morongo Band of Mission Indians have blessed all those in need with an abundance of turkeys,” Smith said. “The Los Angeles Mission is honored to partner with Morongo to share food that feeds the body and caring that inspires the soul of our friends and neighbors this Thanksgiving.”

Groups submitted applications to the tribe from January through April and were notified in June that they had been selected to receive turkeys in the fall.

The annual Thanksgiving Outreach is only one aspect of Morongo’s philanthropy. The band’s Community Outreach Department has provided more than $5 million over the past five years in support of local and national nonprofit organizations, including veterans and military groups, homeless shelters, family support services, educational services and hospitals.

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