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Spreading the gratitude Allison K. Sampite | Sat, Nov 27 2010 12:00 PM


Ladanian Tomlinson's Touching Lives Foundation celebrated its ninth annual event to distribute Thanksgiving dinners to families in need in the South Bay Tuesday (See related video).

Long lines filled a portion of the Walmart parking lot near Broadway in Chula Vista with families and individuals looking to receive free Thanksgiving dinners.

"I think every year the organization does this event, it means that people will have a Thanksgiving turkey who otherwise would not have one," said Chula Vista Mayor Cheryl Cox, who was on hand at the event. "It's a successful event. They know what they are doing."

This year, 20 nonprofit organizations selected 1,000 families to receive dinners that included a 16-pound turkey, vegetables, canned goods, stuffing and a beverage. Vouchers were distributed last week to families considered to be in need.

This event, initially called Giving Thanks with LT, began in 2001 and was renamed Hope for the City after being taken over by former Chargers running back Terrell Fletcher and his church, City of Hope International. Tomlinson is running the same event in New York since going to the New York Giants to play football and he gave Fletcher his blessing to take over the program.

Camille Bascus is a member of City of Hope Church and the director of operations for the Touching Lives Foundation.

"When LT got signed he knew he wanted to make a difference wherever he was," Bascus said. Bascus got involved with the program Giving Thanks with LT eight years ago. "It was too easy to get involved and stay involved," she said.

Chula Vista Police Officer Alan dela Pena said the event is important for the police department to participate in. "It's an opportunity for local people - people who are stakeholders - to help the less fortunate, who can receive something from a local organization," he said.

After everyone with a voucher received their meal, others from the community had the opportunity to receive Thanksgiving dinners until they ran out.

In previous years the foundation distributed 2,100 dinners each Tuesday before Thanksgiving, the number chosen to represent Tomlinson's football number, 21. Missions of the organizations vary from helping homeless families, those in need of government assistance, home care aid, church assistance and single-parent homes.

Bascus said that Tomlinson passed the torch on to Fletcher to continue the event until he comes back to San Diego to retire. "This is one of LT's favorite things to do off the field," she said.

Joe Aguilar has been the store manager at the Walmart for five years and been involved with the event since it started at the Fourth Avenue Walmart location in Chula Vista. "It's a great event that helps many needy people," Aguilar said.

Ebber Nava has worked at Chula Vista Middle School for six years and has participated in the event for the last four years. "We're grateful that we all have jobs and for all of the people who trust us in the community," he said. "It's about giving back, we're here because we care."

Tomlinson's Touching Lives Foundation engages in a number of programs designed to promote education, social and cultural awareness as well as positive self-esteem to enhance the lives of less fortunate families.

"There's a lot of people who have a need," Bascus said. "This is where we work and live - if you have the ability to do something you should. It gives them a sense of families and the holidays."

Eseta Taani, 15, lives with her family of 10 in Chula Vista and picked up a Thanksgiving dinner Tuesday. "I'm very thankful for this event," she said. "I really hope that other people can receive turkeys too."

This was the first year dela Pena coordinated the event for the Chula Vista Police Department. "It's an event to empower the community," he said.

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