They started arriving as early as 8 a.m. Saturday, three hours before the scheduled start, and continued for the next several hours.
A line of cars — more than 600 for the three-hour event — inching east along Truxtun Avenue, south to H Street before traversing through the northeast parking lot at Bakersfield High School.
There they were greeted by representatives from more than a dozen local organizations, where they were provided with a variety of donations with the goal of making their lives a little easier for the holidays.
It was all a part of the first Thanksgiving drive-thru giveaway, organized by the Pacific Health Education Center.
“When people are struggling to pay bills and things, the least we can do is ease the burden for them,” said Travis Tramel, the chief operation officer for PHEC. “And you can see, God is blessed and we have over 500 cars here today.”
The idea for the event originated in Southern California, and Tramel and the organization's CEO Steve Horton began working on the event in August.
Tables were set up along four rows in the parking lot, with some of the more then 100 volunteers opening trunks so others could safely place donations in the vehicles as they zigzagged through the donation area. In addition to canned foods and ingredients for a complete spaghetti dinner, other tables featured blankets, personal hygiene items, water, baby food and formula, as well as information about mental health — a primary concern for the Pacific Health Education Center.
“Our goal is to assist people in living longer and happier,” Horton said. “And our goal is to have them do that. The foundation of our education experience is brain function. That means, how do you use your brain by design to accomplish what you want to accomplish? You want to look good. You want to feel good. You want to think more clearly. Everybody does, but we all try and fall off the wagon.”
In addition to members of PHEC and the volunteers, city leaders such as Bakersfield Mayor Karen Goh were on hand to show their support.
“I’m here as the mayor of Bakersfield to join together with our community members and so many other organizations to support the health of our community,” Goh said. “Let's make sure during this challenging time with the pandemic to unite, support and care for one another.”
In an effort to keep control of the giveaway and provide crowd control, the two started advertising the event a few weeks ago, limiting it to the first 500 families that preregistered. The limit was reached in just four days, prompting them to add another 150 items for potential overflow traffic.
“We were considering a thousand, but then we said, wait a minute, let’s see how it works first,” Horton said. “We didn’t want to overwhelm ourselves. So we decided to keep it at around 500, make sure we know what we’re doing, and then increase it.”
The response from the community has been so overwhelming that Horton and Tramel are planning to stage similar events four times next year, with the next giveaway already planned for early February.
“As we saw the need revealing itself, we said we’ve got to do it more frequently,” Horton said. “So this is just the beginning of something I think is going to be a tremendous assistance for our people here in Bakersfield.”