Ten years ago Wendy McCaw purchased the Santa Barbara (Calif.) News-Press, a onetime Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper, from the New York Times. She subsequently became involved in a bitter and still-ongoing legal dispute with editors and reporters whom she fired for refusing to inject her opinions into news stories. Long before these events, Ms. McCaw was at the center of another controversy when she commissioned an editorial opposing donations of Thanksgiving turkeys to the local food bank.
Ms. McCaw is a vegetarian who believes that everyone should be a vegetarian. The editorial was written by a friend of mine, also a vegetarian, who has long since left the paper. It opined that families dependent on the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County, many of them Hispanic and all of them poor, should eat beans and rice for Thanksgiving as a "nourishing substitute" for turkey. Ms. McCaw was entirely within her rights in advocating this, since this was an expression of opinion in an editorial and not a news story.
Still, it occurred to those of us who differed with her that poor families probably ate beans and rice the year-round and should be entitled to turkeys at Thanksgiving. Accordingly, we went to grocery stores and bought turkeys that we gave to the Foodbank, which is embattled in the best of circumstances and was shocked by the editorial. If memory serves, the Foodbank wound up with slightly more than the usual number of turkeys because of our reaction.
Ever since, I've been taking turkeys to the Foodbank along with a cash donation every Thanksgiving. (The organization also gives away some 2,000 chickens each year -- after Foodbank officials learned that not all of the poor had ovens large enough to accommodate turkeys.) And six years ago it was my good fortune to discover Ahmed, manager of the Albertson's grocery store in Carpenteria. Ahmed, a native of Zanzibar, remembers as if it were yesterday the day he became a U.S. citizen in 1976. He has been in the grocery business for decades, working at various local markets, and is a legend to his employees, who praise him for his leadership and kindnesses.
Ahmed believes strongly in the free market system but is of the view that many corporations have failed to rise to the immense needs of the hungry during our recent Great Recession. Ahmed's store gives quantities of foodstuffs to the Foodbank and other charities. At Thanksgiving he provides me with turkeys at cost to take to the Foodbank. All the grocery chains are willing to help, but Ahmed is so generous that I now go only to him at Thanksgiving.
Usually I buy these turkeys on the Monday before Thanksgiving. This year because of a minor medical issue I didn't get out until Tuesday. Ahmed greeted me, saying, "Mr. Cannon, I was wondering if you were going to come." This year he sold me high-end turkeys, some of them kosher, for 99 cents a pound. As always, he opened a cash register to ring them up, directed his butcher George (another good guy) to pick them out and had someone put them in a cart and wheel them to my car. At the Foodbank, volunteers took the turkeys out of the trunk, all of this a blessing to me since I have a bad back. The Foodbank appreciates the cash but really values the turkeys because there is a surge in demand just before this holiday.
With family members dispersed across the land, my wife, Mary, and I will have a quiet holiday of our own this year, cooking for each other. But thanks to Ahmed and I suppose indirectly to Ms. McCaw, we have already had a wonderful Thanksgiving.