SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Thousands of people braved a blocks-long line Nov. 22 to pick up a box filled with Thanksgiving dinner fixings at the 34th annual E.J. Jackson Foundation Turkey Dinner Giveaway, an event that continued as scheduled despite the recent death of the event’s founder.
Some people in line said they had been waiting for as long as three days to ensure they would receive a holiday meal at the giveaway, which began with a moment of silence in memory of Ellsworth E.J. Jackson, who founded the event.
“This is all about E.J. Jackson today,” Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Los Angeles, told the crowd before volunteers began handing out food boxes at the Jackson Limousine Service lot. A large picture of Jackson, who died Nov. 1 of an apparent heart attack, hung over the festivities.
“It’s a Thanksgiving I won’t ever forget,” one person receiving food told KCAL9.
An estimated 15,000 meals were expected to be distributed to needy families at the event.
Jackson was the owner of Jackson Limousine Service, which has become well-known as the chauffeur to the stars. But Jackson became even better known for his annual turkey giveaway, which attracts celebrities who volunteer their time to help package and hand out food boxes to the thousands of needy residents who would sometimes wait in line for days.
Among those volunteering this year were Lou Gossett Jr., Edward James Olmos, Tone Loc, Dawnn Lewis, Marla Gibbs, Hal Wiliams and KiKi Shepard.
According to the company, the giveaway began in 1982 when some area senior citizens who couldn’t afford Thanksgiving holiday meals approached Jackson, who responded by buying 100 turkeys and creating the E.J. Jackson Foundation. The next year he bought 200, and the next year he bought 500.
The giveaway grew into an annual community event. Last year, more than 12,000 turkeys were handed out, along with other Thanksgiving meal fixings.
Mayor Eric Garcetti called Jackson an “inspiration” and a “role model.”
“The holidays in L.A. won’t be the same without E.J. on the streets at sunrise, making sure everyone’s basket is full,” Garcetti said. “He set a timeless example for us to follow, and we can honor his legacy by building on the tradition he started and committing ourselves every day to making a difference in the lives of our families, friends and neighbors.”