Courtesy Photo
Morongo Tribal Elder Walter Holmes helps distribute some of the 13,000 turkeys donated by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians to non-profit groups this week.

Morongo Celebrates 30 Years of Donating Turkeys

Gale Courey Toensing

Imagine a barnyard big enough to hold 100,000 turkeys. Now imagine the turkeys roasted to perfection, the meat moist and succulent, the skin golden brown and crisp, surrounded by seasonal side dishes of mashed potatoes, green beans and cranberry sauce. How many people do you think could enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner comprised of those 100,000 domesticated flightless fowl?

The Morongo Band of Mission Indians knows the answer. The tribal nation has given away more 100,000 Thanksgiving turkeys across Southern California over the past three decades, providing an astonishing 1.5 million-plus holiday meals to families, veterans and seniors in need.

This year Morongo distributed 13,000 turkeys to churches, charities and other nonprofit organizations in celebration of its 30th annual Thanksgiving outreach program.

Morongo’s tradition of philanthropy is not new, “The roots of Morongo’s Thanksgiving outreach program date back decades to a time when our tribe reached out to help others even as we ourselves faced uncertainty and adversity,” Chairman Robert Marin said. “Those core values remain alive and strong at Morongo today, and we are thankful to have helped so many people over the past 30 years.”

The nation’s Thanksgiving turkey giveaway project’s process begins in January when would-be recipient organizations file applications and by late spring, the recipients are notified about how many turkeys they will receive.

This year 126 nonprofit organizations received turkeys, Morongo Vice Chair Mary Ann Andreas told ICTMN. They included churches, food pantries, schools, veterans groups and homeless shelters from across the Inland Empire and Southern California.  

More than 125 volunteers helped the Morongo Band of Mission Indians distribute 13,000 turkeys during the tribe’s 30th Annual Thanksgiving outreach program befitting local food pantries, churches and non-profits.

On November 16 and 17, dozens of dozens of tribal members and volunteers gathered at the Morongo Community Center where six trucks were available to help distribute the frozen turkeys to groups in Banning, Beaumont, Riverside, San Bernardino, Lake Elsinore, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, Indio, Mecca, Los Angeles, and many other communities, including other tribal communities Andreas said.

Recipients included the Coachella Rescue Mission (450 turkeys), Inland AIDS Project in San Bernardino (200 turkeys), Hope Food Bank in San Jacinto (200 turkeys), Kansas Avenue Resource Center in Riverside (350 turkeys), Martha’s Village in Indio (200 turkeys) and Saul Martinez Elementary School in Mecca (300 turkeys), among others.

Asked what the total cost of the program is, Andreas said, “We don’t look at it from a cost standpoint. We look at it as giving back to our community.  We have a very successful operation and we believe it’s because the community has given to us.”

Surrounded by pallets of boxed turkeys, Cristina St. Marie of Banning helps load some of the 13,000 turkeys given away by the Morongo Band of Mission Indians to non-profit groups this week.

The recipient organizations expressed gratitude for Morongo’s generosity “Thirty years is an amazing milestone and a testament to the generosity of Morongo,” said Darla Burkett, executive director of the Coachella Valley Rescue Mission. “We are always very grateful for Morongo’s donation, which will help those in the greatest need in the Coachella Valley again this year.”

“Thanksgiving is a chance to share our many blessings and to help others,” Riverside County Fifth District Supervisor Marion Ashley said.  “For 30 years, the Morongo tribe has truly embodied the spirit of giving by making sure that hundreds of thousands of people in need received hot Thanksgiving dinners.”

“What a tremendous blessing it has been to have turkeys donated from Morongo every year,” said Pastor Victor Archuleta of Victory Outreach Banning. “It’s amazing to see the commitment of Morongo to the community and to Victory Outreach to make sure local families who are struggling get what they need during the Thanksgiving holiday.”

Hundreds of veterans and military families are benefitting from the tribe’s Thanksgiving outreach program, which provided nearly 600 turkeys this year to local chapters of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and other military support groups.

“Without Morongo, many of our veterans and active duty families in need would be going without this holiday,” said Kevin Buss, adjutant for the VFW Post 4089 in Temecula.  “We’ve been doing this program with Morongo for 10 years and every year it increases as the need to support our veterans continues to grow. We are very grateful to Morongo for striving to help meet that need.”

The Union Rescue Mission and Los Angeles Mission received a combined total of 550 turkeys to help feed the homeless this holiday. Herb Smith, president of the Los Angeles Mission, said the donations would help feed hundreds on Skid Row in Los Angeles. “Every year, we can always count on the Morongo Band of Mission Indians to bless the poor and homeless men, women and children we serve,” Smith said. “We are honored to be partnering with Morongo once again to provide food and care this Thanksgiving.” 

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