Buddhist temple puts special twist on meals

by Kelly Rayburn, San Bernadino County Sun, Nov 21, 2005

San Bernadino, CA (USA) -- The plates in front of Tony Negrette and his wife Charlotte were piled with turkey and pumpkin pie, traditional Thanksgiving meal staples.

They also were stacked with fried rice, fried noodles and skewered beef seasoned with lemon grass.

"This is great," said Tony, 75, of San Bernardino, of the holiday meal given out by volunteers at the Khmer Buddhist Temple on Hardt Street. "This is a good meal, let me tell you. We went to another one yesterday"

He nodded in approval.

The Negrettes were two of dozens of people who celebrated Thanksgiving Cambodian-style on Sunday, four days before Turkey Day itself, at an event designed for the elderly, hungry and homeless.

The meal was billed as a "Thank You America" celebration -- the first, planners hope, of many such events.

Sokan Hunro, a regular at the temple, said he came up with the idea after volunteering for years at San Bernardino City Mission's annual Thanksgiving dinner.

"It's our way of showing appreciation for America, for what America's done for us," he said.

Hunro, a 44-year-old physician's assistant living in Redlands, arrived in the United States in 1983. He said Americans were among the international relief workers who fed Cambodians in refugee camps in Cambodia, Thailand and the Philippines. He also said many Cambodian immigrants found themselves on welfare when arriving here, and it seemed appropriate to say thanks with the type of event conducted Sunday.

Hunro and other volunteers made preparations to feed as many as 600. In the weeks leading up to the event, they handed out fliers advertising the event, but the turnout was lower than hoped.

By the end of the event, however, a carload of volunteers had returned from handing out 35 boxed meals in downtown San Bernardino's Seccombe Lake Recreation Area.

The feelings of thanks were clear among those who did attend.

Gayle Behn, 47, lives in a tent under a bridge in San Bernardino, and was brought by her friend Teresa Vasquez, 68, also of San Bernardino.

As she was served, Behn said, "Thank you. God bless you. Thank you."

She left smiling.

"It was delicious," she said.

Patting a to-go box and a plastic bag with a slice of pumpkin pie in it, she said, "I got some extra to hold me over tonight."