JOSHUA TREE — The Way Station ministry is dedicated to making sure that no family in the Morongo Basin goes hungry on Thanksgiving. They continued a Thanksgiving tradition that stretches back 33 years by providing turkeys and fixings to help families in need.
About 600 people gathered at the ministry’s Joshua Tree facility on Tuesday. Participants lined up around the building during the early morning to save their spot in the food giveaway line; some even camped out in front of the building during the night.
The event gets bigger and bigger every year,” said Pastor Steve Cook, executive director for the Way Station.
Most of the food is donated to the ministry by local businesses: Grocery Outlet, Vons and Joshua Springs all donated food this year. Others donate money to the Way Station which is used to purchase the rest of the food, which is handed out by volunteers of all ages at the event.
The Way Station kicked off the morning with a clothing drive, music by the Marne Kelley Band and a sermon from Cook.
This year Cook’s sermon focused on family and the importance of taking care of your family and your neighbors all year round.
“If you don’t have family you can join our happy group,” he said.
Cook’s own family, including several great-grandchildren and grandchildren, were helping out at the event.
One of the attendees, Dawn Wahlberg, said that she was a newcomer to the event, but after this year, she plans to be a regular.
“The holiday can be really stressful if your struggling with money or on a fixed income,” she said. “This is really great for me and my family and it’s also fun at the same time.
Her grandson, six-year-old Jake Wahlberg, said that he was very excited for Turkey on Thursday.
Another attendee, Jaime Moore, said that she had heard about the event from school friends that volunteered at the giveaway every year and that she loves how festive everything is.
“It’s a food giveaway, yes, but it’s also just a great time,” she said.
Cook said that so far, the ministry has never had to turn anyone away despite the growth of the event. But this year the entire event was in jeopardy after the Way Station was ordered in Oct. to make costly upgrades to their facility to comply with state regulations.
The San Bernardino County’s environmental health department says that the Way Station is in violation of several state laws on food safety. They are requiring that they put in a new septic system along with several other upgrades.
“We thought the county was gonna close the whole thing down,” Cook said. “But they called us and said ‘We don’t want to close you down we want to work with you.’”
Cook said that the county has given them some time to get everything up to code so they hopefully won’t be affected during the holiday season.