From potluck door drops to hospital shifts, how Angelenos are navigating Thanksgiving

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With Thanksgiving feeling a lot different this year, KCRW asked three Angelenos how they plan to safely celebrate the holiday.

Hannah Benage is a chef and single mom from Amarillo, Texas, who has lived in LA for 15 years. She has three sisters who live nearby, but they’re not getting together this year.

“Like every single holiday this year, we just basically do Zoom dinner parties,” she says. “Each of us are making our family recipes. But enough for everybody. And then kind of doing like a door drop to trade them off.”

She’s making lobster bisque, baked brie, cider-brined turkey, mashed potatoes with whiskey giblet gravy, and pistachio cream puffs.

“My sisters are doing a cheesy rice casserole that our mom used to make because we were all craving our comfort childhood dishes,” she says. “Our mom's been getting very pissed, getting emails from everybody asking for those recipes. She's mad that we're not coming to see them.”

Pistachio cream puffs are part of Thanksgiving for Hannah Benage and her family this year. Photo courtesy of Hannah Benage.   (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Meanwhile, in Torrance, Pam Lewis-Nuñez will not be cooking. Her husband has a big Argentian family, and they usually go there for Thanksgiving.

“We actually ordered food because we've never had to make Thanksgiving before,” she says. ‘We started looking it up, and we were like, ‘We are completely not equipped to make dinner.’ So we ordered it.”

Lewis-Nuñez works as a therapist who monitors people's mental health and substance abuse treatment for an insurance company.

Pam Lewis-Nunez and her husband typically go to his family’s house for a big Thanksgiving. This year, they’re staying home and ordering in. Photo courtesy of Pam Lewis-Nunez. (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

“My work has increased significantly,” she says. “There are astronomical rates of people seeking substance abuse and mental health treatment. Previously, I would talk to somebody who was feeling suicidal once a month, and now it's happening several times per week. I'm having to call 911 frequently.”

Some people are trying to avoid family obligations this year without hurting anyone’s feelings.

Michele, who’d rather not give her last name, is a social worker who sometimes works in the emergency room at a hospital. She’s married with kids and lives in the San Gabriel Valley. 

“There will normally be a very large event with my husband's family and a smaller event at my parents’ home, so we try to do both,” she said. “And for the time being, it does seem like both events are going on as normal.”

She’s not comfortable with that. To get out of going without offending her family, she signed on to work the Thanksgiving day shift at the hospital.

“In light of the pandemic this year, I really wanted an opportunity not only to help the medical teams that I work with, but also bow out gracefully when it comes to going to these parties, which I know are really driving the spread of this virus in the community.”

Meanwhile, her and her husband’s families are all preparing to get together for big Thanksgiving celebrations.

“I think everybody is sick of being scolded and told what to do,” she says. “I've explained what I've seen. Both my husband and my children and I, we've had COVID before, and we don't want anyone getting it, it's not a good virus. And I think, you know, sometimes it feels like it falls on deaf ears.”

Usually, Michele says she’s a stickler about not putting the Christmas decorations up until after Thanksgiving. This year, she caved.

“My daughter and I decorated our Christmas tree. We're going to watch Christmas movies and indulge in the holiday spirit a little bit earlier than usual,” she says. “Even if we can't have these big parties and events that we're used to, there are ways that you can try to keep that spirit up. Because ultimately, if we can get through the next few months, we can hopefully have some semblance of normalcy in the next year. That needs to be the focus. Doing whatever we can to survive this horrible year and make it to a place where we can have hope for a better future.”