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Tri-Valley Community Outreach Dinner and the True Meaning of Thanksgiving

November 28, 2015

DSC_0605Many families celebrate long held Thanksgiving traditions. Some of these traditions include the menu, travel to certain locations or perhaps catching a movie once the last piece of pumpkin pie has been served. And, others begin to plot their strategies for “Black Friday.” However, was able to observe the development of a new holiday tradition right here in town.

DSC_0602On Thursday, a coalition of businesses, churches and community organizations hosted their 4th annual Tri-Valley Community Outreach Dinner. The event took place in Moran Hall at St. Raymond Catholic Church. The dinner was free and the intent was to provide a safe and accepting place for any and all citizens to enjoy a holiday meal. Of course, a gathering of this scope requires many hands and months of preparation. had the opportunity to sit down with one of the many volunteers, Rebecca (Becca) McFadden. Becca presently has four children in the DUSD system: McKay (11th grade/DHS), Ali (8th/Fallon), Isaac (5th/Green) and Travis (2nd/Green). Her eldest, Emilee, is a freshman at Brigham Young University. We were interested in how Becca became involved and what goes into this type of endeavor.  This is your second year in contributing to this event.  However, your level of involvement is significantly greater this year – please explain why.

DSC_0593Becca McFadden: “My level of involvement is greater this year in that I am putting my own desires to travel with my family (who left on Thanksgiving vacation already) behind the desire to be at the Tri-Valley Community Outreach Thanksgiving Dinner Set-Up on Wednesday, the day before.  Both years I have helped with promoting the event with flyers and information to community businesses and organizations in the months previous as well as meeting since July with organizers and coordinating details. This year I took on an additional role in reaching out to musicians in our community and coordinating their talent sharing at the dinner on Thursday as well.  I was anticipating the joy of being at the event on Thursday to be a part of all that took place, seeing the guests and those volunteering, the serving of food as well as overseeing the musical numbers I had coordinated.  When we had a change of plans and decided to travel out of state to be with family, including our college daughter who would meet us at my in-laws from school, it was a really tough pull between two places my heart was invested in completely.  My entire family drove there early and I stayed back alone so I could fulfill the assignment to work with Jeannine Songey all day Wednesday in coordinating all the volunteers and stations who will come to do set up on Wednesday.  We will work from 7:30am to 5:30pm or so that day.  Then Thursday in the wee hours of the morning, I will fly instead to reconnect with my family for the actual Thanksgiving meal.

“I could not abandon my heart’s desire to help on Wednesday.  I knew I had a responsibility to do all I could do to put my hands in a place where a difference can be made.  There are a lot of things to coordinate to make this happen and Janet Songey as well as Matt Troiano, Claudia Ambrose, Ken Mano, Jeannine Songey, Ann Perez, John Archer, Frank Doyle Jr, Bernadette Bray, and a couple of others are the wheels behind this project.  They are the true organizers who put heart and soul into making this happen.  I feel glad to be a part of the core team of organizers and want to see more and more people served in this way with a warm meal.  If I put in my all this year, at whatever level that is… even if I have to miss the actual day’s event, I knew I would feel completely satisfied that I had tried my best to serve my fellowmen and women.  I guess that is the reason my level of involvement has increased this year.  I feel a drive to do all I can to help make this service a success because when you see others working hard for a common goal that is so good, you feel enthusiasm in your heart as well.  This is what I feel as I serve others around me.” The Outreach Dinner is a positive experience for so many Tri-Valley residents.  Please describe how this is also a rewarding memory for you.

McFadden: “The meetings with these giving people prior are filled with good memories.  Janet Songey (our lead organizer) or Ann Perez (the baker) always brings something warm or a treat.  We meet together at St. Raymond’s facility each month, discuss what needs to be done to prepare, make assignments, agree to communicate in between meetings via email and phone, and carry on with our plans.  Janet Songey and Matt Troiano and Ken Mano and Claudia Ambrose have been the strong wheels behind making this happen.  I have positive memories of working with them because their zeal and energy towards this completely altruistic endeavor is addictive and my heart has been opened up to how much more I can personally give to those who live in our own community.  Their example of goodness and service fills me with a vision of what is possible when we look outside of ourselves and come together for a common goal.  I am a better person for having worked with them all and I am a better person because of the opportunity I have had to help coordinate this outreach dinner… even in my own small way.  It is rewarding to join together with others in the community to do something outward reaching for others.” As this is the fourth year of the event, you had mentioned that outreach/marketing has been one of the ongoing challenges.  Please ensure to our readers how leftover foods have been shared with the community.

McFadden: “Each of the four years of this event, the meal serving is completed the day of the Outreach Dinner around4:00pm.  Although we would love to serve MORE guests and friends right in the St. Raymond’s Church facility, we have had leftover food each year.  This is an ongoing outreach even once the meal on site is over.  Matt Troiano, one of our key organizers and someone who spends all day carving turkeys to serve and dishing people up with plates… finishes with the in house service and then pulls together (with many other helping hands) containers of meals to take to other places where meals would be appreciated off site.  Typically these meals go to housing developments where there may be shut-ins (those who cannot physically get out of their living quarters but are not necessarily in a Senior home or other group home environment) and disperses the meals.  His efforts always yield the desired hope that more people in our community can still enjoy a warm home cooked Thanksgiving meal where they might not normally get one.” Anything else that you would like to add?

McFadden: “The desire for the future of this event would be a.) to help many more churches get involved in our Tri-Valley area so that a representative or two from these congregations could come on to the core team (the planning team that meets once a month starting in July) thus expanding the circle of united effort.  We have invited a number of churches in the area (Claudia Ambrose is our Outreach Church and Community Help Coordinator) but so far, it has been primarily two or three churches in the planning stages.  b.) to hold the event at a couple of different locations within Dublin/Pleasanton so as to give a larger variety of people an opportunity to come… if it is held closer to potential guests every other year, we may see a broader base of participants begin to come.  c.)  Increase the number of people who come to eat the meal.  This year, we have seen an increase in volunteers so we know that the word is getting out better and people are starting to block it in for an annual event that they help with and possibly letting their friends know.  We feel grateful that so many wonderful people are willing to help with their time, talents, and financial resources/donations on Wednesday and Thursday.  But we would still like to feed more of our community members if possible who are in need of a place to go.”

To further demonstrate the depth of ways to contribute to the success of this event, we were also introduced to Christopher Lu and his mother, Carmen. Mr. Lu is a seventh grader at Fallon Middle School. In addition to being a strong student, he has also been a musician for the majority of this life. On Thursday, Christopher was a part of a slate that provided a musical accompaniment for all in attendance. We got to know him a bit better by sitting down in advance. In discussing your musical career/interests, you specified that you previously had the opportunity to attend many concerts.  Also, you cited that you like the cello’s “broad spectrum of sound.”  Please comment on both of these points.

DSC_0619Christopher Lu: “When I was younger, my mother brought me to many concerts such as those at Forest Hill. I was given the chance to hear the diverse sound of many instruments. At age six, I decided to dedicate myself to playing the cello because I was mesmerized by its earthy sounds and its’ broad spectrum of sound. I’m still fascinated by how a cello can go as low as the double bass, or higher than the violin in terms of pitch, as well as emulate other instruments.” After years of private lessons with an instructor in San Francisco, you moved to the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra  in Berkeley last year. Help to describe the environment of this group and perhaps share some of the friendships that you’ve made.

DSC_0589Lu: “Ever since I was six years old I have been taking cello lessons from Barbara Wirth, a teacher at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Last year, I started learning cello from Michael Graham. He has always supported and encouraged me when I was deciding on important things like performing a solo, or auditioning for an orchestra. My goal is to play as good as my teacher, Michael Graham, who really knows how to make the cello sing.

“Also, I joined the Young People’s Chamber Orchestra last year. This year, I became the principal cellist at Young People’s Chamber Orchestra. It has been a very exciting experience for me. For the most part, our atmosphere is casual while learning, though when we play our songs at both practices and performances, the atmosphere becomes really intense. We must carefully listen to each other’s playing and play harmoniously.” We briefly discussed your favorite subject (Science) and the potential correlation between music and success in academics.  You made reference to “subdivision” while counting beats. Take this a step further and please explain.

Lu: “I see a vital connection between success in music and academics, especially science and math. For example, while playing a complex piece, one must use mathematical and quick thinking to establish a subdivision of notes. This experience in the musical field also helps with academics because the focus required to use subdivision well helps one to stay focused while studying for an academic test.” On Thursday, you could have been lounging comfortably with your relatives in San Francisco.  Instead, you devoted a portion of your afternoon playing your cello in front of a fairly large audience on Thanksgiving.  You shared that through music you wanted to “make people happy.”  We are sure that there is more to this feeling – please articulate.

Lu: “This Thursday, instead of eating all day, I have decided to play my cello for the enjoyment of the entire community. I am thrilled to be playing a repertoire of songs because they are all inspiring to other people, as well as to me. While playing, I can feel that I am inspiring my audience and communicating a form of art that connects people.”

A DUSD parent and student convened to help make this Thanksgiving a little brighter for some of their fellow community members. would like to thank Becca McFadden, Christopher Lu and the scores of other volunteers that made the Outreach Dinner a huge success.


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