For over three decades now, Anaheim Restaurant Owner Frank Garcia and his family have spent their Thanksgiving feeding hungry OC residents.

Today, Frank with support from donations, his family, volunteers and local organizations will be serving a free Thanksgiving day feast equipped with 400 turkeys, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pie at the Honda Center in Anaheim from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

And everybody is invited.

“I don’t care if you’re poor or rich or whatever. Hungry is hungry,” he told reporters at his restaurant in Anaheim, La Casa Garcia, last week sitting in front of a mural of his annual Thanksgiving day celebration at the Honda Center.

“God has been good to me and there’s a lot of people hungry,” Frank said. “For me, every day that I come out of the house, I have to do something for somebody.”

This is why he has maintained the tradition for so long, he says.

Frank’s family restaurant is also home to a large mural depicting the annual Thanksgiving at the Honda Center in Anaheim. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Frank said the reward for him is the warmness he feels in his heart once everyone is feed.

He started the tradition in 1986 with the launch of his nonprofit, We Give Thanks, right there in the restaurant’s parking lot serving about 3,000 people.

Clockwise, Silvia Garcia, Frank Garcia, daughters: Veronica Garcia and Cindy Garcia stand for a portrait during their Thanksgiving dinner outside their family restaurant, La Casa Garcia. Credit: Courtesy of Frank Garcia
La Casa Garcia parking lot during one of their Thanksgiving dinners. Credit: Courtesy of Frank Garcia

Frank said around the time Arrowhead Pond became the Honda Center in 2006, his thanksgiving day feast moved to the entertainment venue and even Anaheim Duck players started to volunteer for the event.

But his tradition has faced challenges.

Frank was forced to adapt his Thanksgiving after the Coronavirus pandemic.

Teaming up with the Second Harvest Food Bank of OC in 2020, they adapted their distribution to a drive through model that local food banks and pantries utilized to feed people in need amid the pandemic.

[Read: Orange County Food Banks And Pantries Step Up to Giveaway Thanksgiving Turkeys and Meals]

This year, Frank is back at the Honda Center enlisting the help of the Hilton in Anaheim and Executive Chef Martin Guerrero to help prepare the feast with a goal of serving thousands of people.

The challenge this time around was finding the Turkeys – a task food bank leaders like Mark Lowry, Director of the OC Food Bank, said has been difficult and more expensive than usual due to a shortage of supplies.

But Lowry was able to help source the birds for Garcia’s event – even getting some Turkeys from Canada.

Frank unpacks one of the boxes containing turkeys that will be used for the annual Thanksgiving dinner at the Honda Center in Anaheim on Thanksgiving day. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Garcia said he was able to pay for the Turkeys with help from a $40,000 check from Supervisor Katrina Foley’s office. The event is also made possible through the support of volunteers – who not only help serve the food – but come and shred the turkey days in advance.

Lowry said turkey has become an emotional touchstone of the holiday.

“The other tradition that Orange County has had is Frank Garcia providing that experience for people who may not be able to afford it themselves or have anybody to share it with,” Lowry said. “We wanted to help support that as anybody would want to help support that long and wonderful tradition in Orange County.”

It’s a tradition Frank’s son is continuing as well after following in his father’s footsteps and opening a restaurant of his own with Al Cisneros, a family friend, in downtown Fullerton called Garcia’s South of the Border Cantina & Grill.

A Thanksgiving Legacy

Volunteers serve up a Thanksgiving meal for the public at the South of the Border restaurant on Nov. 21, 2022. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Frank Garcia, Jr, Frank’s son, said he has never had a Thanksgiving dinner at his home.

It was always with his dad feeding people.

Garcia, Jr. started his Thanksgiving distribution through his Fullerton restaurant back in 2020 – in an area where he said the need for such a meal is high also.

“I have my kids here. That’s what my dad taught us when we were younger, you stand in line, you serve,” he said in a phone interview last week. “During this time right now, a lot of people can’t afford that turkey dinner, everything’s so expensive.”

Highschool students Starly Beri, left, Natalie Garcia, middle, Ella Dimaio, right, prepare plates with ham, turkey, mashed potatoes and vegetables. “I have been doing this all my life,” says Garcia, the daughter of Frank Jr. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Garcia, Jr. held his third annual Thanksgiving distribution on Monday serving about 30 turkeys and 40 hams cooked by Chef Marco Colin.

Frank Garcia Jr., left, and Chef Marco Colin, right, stand in the kitchen where much of the preparation for the Thanksgiving dinner will be held. The turkeys, however, are cooked at the Casa de Garcia location as they have bigger ovens. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

They were helped by high school students in distributing the food – a target volunteer group for Garcia, Jr. who hopes they learn the importance of Thanksgiving and to pass on the lessons he learned from his father.

“My dad always says you have to give a little bit. When you have a business, you always have to give back to the community,” Garcia, Jr. said.

“It’s just a tradition that we have to keep on doing. It’s something that our dad taught us when we were young.”

Frank Garcia, left, and Al Cisneros, co-owner of South of the Border and Garcia family friend (right), stand for a portrait during the Thanksgiving event. “This legacy will continue forever,” says Cisneros, as he recounts meals he made on Thanksgiving at La Casa Garcia, now continuing the tradition at his restaurant, South of the Border. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.

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