The Local Hearts Foundation along with around 100 volunteers who participated in their 5th annual turkey distribution event at the Homeland Cultural Center on Saturday, Nov. 21. (Lissette Mendoza | Signal Tribune)
The Local Hearts Foundation along with around 100 volunteers who participated in their 5th annual turkey distribution event at the Homeland Cultural Center on Saturday, Nov. 21.

Lissette Mendoza | Signal Tribune

‘Bringing the hood together’: Local Hearts Foundation and friends distribute over 1,000 turkeys to those in need

November 23, 2020

With a line of anxious residents wrapping around the block, Local Hearts Foundation, along with the assistance of almost 100 volunteers and multiple sponsors, distributed over 1,000 turkeys to families in need during their 5th annual Diamonds and Turkeys distribution event.

Local residents lined up as early as 6:30 a.m., such as Nancy Maradiaga. She was one of the first in line, accompanied by four out of her eight children. Maradiaga who attended the same event last year mentioned how her family had fallen on hard times because of the pandemic, with her currently being unemployed and her husband currently being the family’s only source of income.

While the initial goal was to distribute 1,000 turkeys, with additional donations from fellow community members and organizations, a total of around 1,260 turkeys were gathered.

Hundreds of people lined up around MacArthur Park in Cambodia Town for the Local Hearts Foundation’s 5th Annual turkey distribution event on Saturday, November 21. The line wrapped around the entire block, with those at the front of the line having arrived as early as 6:30am. (Lissette Mendoza | Signal Tribune)

Aside from turkeys, attendees were also given other goods such as Diamond Supply Clothing Co. bags with some of the brand’s apparel merchandise; hygiene supplies, dry goods such as rice and cereal; and canned goods.

The connections and friendships that Tito Rodriguez, President of the Local Hearts Foundation, also known as the Hood Santa, has cultivated throughout the years have genuinely benefited the community.

“It’s the community stepping up, regular people getting involved and wanting to do good. That’s the beauty of this community because it really takes us to save us,” Rodriguez said.

Martin and Manuel Luzanilla from Mexihana’s Hibachi Grill, a local, rising business in Long Beach, also arrived to donate an additional 50 turkeys.

The Luzanilla’s grew up in the 6th District, where the distribution was taking place, and Martin has actually been friends with Rodriguez for over 20 years.

“We’re from 6th District, this is our community, so for us to give back, it’s everything,” Martin said. “If we got it, we can give it.”

Around 1,260 turkeys were gathered for the 5th annual Local Hearts Foundation turkey distribution, surpassing their initial goal of 1,000. (Lissette Mendoza | Signal Tribune)

Matthew Nguyen, a graduate of Poly High School, grew up in Long Beach. He and his IT solutions integrator company, Trace3, made a monetary contribution to the Local Hearts Foundation for the purpose of their turkey distribution and has previously raised over $9,000 for the Local Hearts Foundation.

Alex Wong, Director of Distribution for Mr. Nice Guy Cannabis Dispensaries was also in attendance to support the Foundation. The company had supported the Foundation’s previous turkey drive and toy drive in 2019. Wong also made note that Mr. Nice Guy also made a monetary contribution for the distribution.

“Tito, he’s doing a great job, so whenever he calls and asks like ‘hey it’s that time of year,’ we’re always definitely down to contribute,” Wong said. “I know it’s hard, especially this year, even more so with COVID going on. We know that there’s gonna be so many more families that need help, so if we’re in a place to give back, we’d love to do so,” he concluded.

“That’s what the community should be about,” Rodriguez said, “all of us getting to know each other and talking to each other, bringing the hood together.”

A volunteer places dry goods in a woman’s cart. Aside from the turkeys, attendees were also given Diamond Supply Co. Clothing, hygiene supplies, dry goods and canned goods. (Lissette Mendoza | Signal Tribune)

Although the event was walk-in, those with accessibility issues had the turkey and other goods brought to them.

Health and safety precautions were taken as no one was allowed through the event without a mask. They were not turned away, however, as volunteers gave out masks to those who didn’t have one. Attendees were all made to sanitize their hands prior to entering and only a limited amount were allowed to enter the area at once to encourage social distancing.

After about 3 hours, the event began winding down as most goods had been claimed.

HJ Chong, co-founder of the Local Hearts Foundation, was left speechless for a moment.

“The fact that we pulled this off during COVID is pretty crazy,” Chong said.

“The beauty of it from what I’ve seen is like at least 20% to 25% of the people that are volunteering, are people who we have impacted somehow someway, that’s the beauty of it,” he continued.

Familiar faces were at the event volunteering such as Pedro Castellanos-Aguilar whom the Foundation assisted with their Buy-Out Pedro event during the Summer, and Jesse Alcala, a father of five young girls whom the Foundation has assisted with getting him a van, furniture, school supplies and more for his young daughters.

Pozole and Menudo bowls being distributed by volunteer Elizabeth Muñoz at the 5th annual Diamonds and Turkeys event. (Lissette Mendoza | Signal Tribune)

“Our investment within the community is paying off, and now it’s trickling down, you know, that’s the beauty of it.”

Chong’s biggest fear was not being able to get everyone something, during their last local event, a Back to School Drive, the need in the community was so high that they ran out of school supplies to distribute within less than an hour. This time, however, they had enough supplies for every person who attended the event, and even some to give to a couple of volunteers to take home.

“Every year people step up, 10 years ago, I would have not imagined this,” Chong said.

“This wouldn’t be possible without the people who stepped up, average people that donated on our Paypal on our website, and the sponsors that are sponsoring us for the first time,” he continued. “From law firms to Trace3, who stepped up, because the reality is me and Tito and the organization, we can’t take credit for this, yes we organized it but without them, without their funds, this is impossible,” Chong concluded.

Diamond Supply Co., one of the Foundation’s original and longtime sponsors, donated hundreds of Diamond Supply Co. Clothing apparel items. (Lissette Mendoza | Signal Tribune)

The Local Hearts Foundation also donated 100 turkeys to deployed airmen from the United States Air Force, Puente LBC and a local Davita Dialysis Center.

Sponsors of the event included Diamond Supply Co., Foos Gone Wild, Grizzly Grip Tape, Trace3, Mr. Nice Guy, the Manny Pacquiao Foundation, and Foster Farms.

The next Local Hearts Foundation community event will be a Holiday Toy Drive in December also at the Homeland Cultural Center.

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