Ashland man who's faced cold, empty streets shares warmth of Thanksgiving

ASHLAND — A local resident who once lacked stable housing and faced Thanksgiving alone is organizing a turkey dinner Thursday for those with nowhere to go.

Now that Thomas Titus has an Ashland home, he wants to make sure no one in town this Thanksgiving goes without a hot meal and fellowship, as he did 10 years ago. "I called around, because I was going to volunteer, and I couldn't find anyone doing a Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving in Ashland," Titus said Tuesday. "So I talked to my housemate and I said, 'Why don't we create our own dinner then?' "

Titus and his housemate, Nicole Vilencia, will serve a free Thanksgiving meal to anyone without a place to spend the holiday, including homeless residents and those who are unable to afford a turkey dinner. "This isn't necessarily just for people who are homeless," Titus said. "It's also for people who don't have the ability to cook a meal or don't have anyone to share a meal with. It really gets cold on holidays if you don't have a place to go."

The event begins at noon Thursday in Lithia Park's Cottonwood Memorial Picnic Area past the upper duck pond off Granite Street.

The organizers are looking for volunteers and monetary and food donations, said Vilencia, a morning co-host on KOOL 103.5, which is not affiliated with the event. Area businesses and residents already have donated most of the food needed, but organizers still need sticks of butter, paper plates and plastic cups, she said.

"We couldn't have done this without the generosity of the community," Vilencia said. "People here really care and that's been a wonderful thing to witness."

She's planning to cook enough turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes to feed 150 people, she said. The picnic tables also will boast other traditional Thanksgiving foods, including candied yams, pumpkin pie, corn, cranberries and rolls.

"We just want to make sure that we're doing what we can to share what we have, because we have enough," Vilencia said. "It's also an opportunity to build community."

Vilencia has a number of volunteers lined up to help with the cooking, but she is seeking assistance from a commercial chef or someone with experience in industrial cooking.

Komac Tapp, who serves a hot meal to homeless residents in Lithia Park every Thursday, will bring a vegetarian dish to the gathering.

"It's kind of important for people to get together, and serving food does help out an awful lot," he said. "Maybe it's the only hot meal they have that day, and they also get to talk and fellowship."

Tapp said serving meals on holidays can help boost the spirits of people who have nowhere else to go.

"There is kind of a desolation that people who are on the streets or roughing it feel on holidays," he said. "It's a desolation, kind of like a loneliness or emptiness, because everything's closed, and on a day like that where they do feel that sort of thing, it's important that we just don't eliminate the dinner."

Titus said he knows what it feels like to be lonely on a holiday and he hopes Thursday's meal provides diners with a sense of community.

"I have been challenged with housing in the past and I'm extremely thankful at this time of year to have housing," he said. "I do feel it's necessary to give back."

Those interested in donating or volunteering are asked to call Vilencia at 714-712-0178.

Hannah Guzik is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach her at 482-3456 ext. 226 or

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