Erin Earl is throwing Turkey Bash 2013, a Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless of Huntington Beach, but she is aiming to provide more than just a meal.
With the help of the owner of the Huntington Beach Bagelmania Coffeehouse, Earl hopes to create a sense of home and true holiday cheer to "give these people an experience that, if nothing else, makes them feel happy for a couple of hours."
"And you know when you feel better, when you feel happy for even a short time, it changes your outlook," she said. "Maybe they'll leave and they'll feel a little better about life."
Earl knows what effect such kindness can have during the holidays because she threw her first Turkey Bash in 2011 — the same year she edged toward homelessness.
While going through a tough divorce in 2010 and facing an unknown road ahead, Earl started walking along the San Gabriel River to clear her mind.
As she walked, she began befriending the homeless who found refuge at the riverbed.
"I started opening my eyes and seeing the homeless population out there, which I never noticed before in my former world, and I was just strangely drawn ... to them," said Earl, who feared her own fate at the time.
As Earl waded through the divorce, she "needed to be away from" her husband and cut all ties, including financial ones. After 23 years of marriage, her family's home went up for sale.
"I was leaving my career and my own life and the comforts of all that I had," she said about her role as a pastor's wife, including the part she played in creating the church's musical offerings.
As the divorced was finalized, Earl was able to keep a roof over her head, but she and her 21-year-old son, who has autism, found themselves "kind of living a lifestyle of bouncing around from here to there."
It was not just the ever-looming possibility of homelessness that brought Earl closer to her friends on the riverbed, but the feeling of becoming a social outcast.
Her husband was a pastor and in divorcing him, she felt rejected by the church community of which she had long been at the center.
"Having been in that life for so long and then leaving it willfully, I was outcasted," she said. "So I not only was out of my home, I was out of community. I had no friends — I had nothing."
As Earl began her new life, the holidays approached and she said it was bothering her that the friends she had made on the San Gabriel River had no plans for festive celebrations.
So she packed her truck with tables, chairs and all the fixings for a Thanksgiving feast and set up a dinner under the 605 Freeway. That became the first Turkey Bash.
Even though she was on food stamps at the time, Earl gathered what food she could for the group that she began so closely to relate with.
"I had huge compassion for them, whereas in my old life I would have been afraid of them," she said. "Not knowing their situation or if they were dangerous, you know, just stay away."
Now, a few years removed from the first Turkey Bash, Earl is still not staying away.
While enjoying a more stable life in Huntington Beach, she has rebuilt her career utilizing her master's degree in vocal performance to teach at a conservatory in Fountain Valley and at Cypress Community College, as well as offer private lessons.
No longer relying on food stamps, Earl is financing Turkey Bash 2013 with help from Bagelmania owner Christian Glasgow.
Earl is having Lucille's Smokehouse Bar-B-Que cater the full Thanksgiving spread — complete with turkey and pumpkin pie — and the event will be held on Adams Avenue outside the Huntington Beach bagel shop.
But Turkey Bash 2013 has never been about just food.
Glasgow will be providing tables, chairs and cloth table settings. Centerpieces are being made to create a true Thanksgiving experience, and live music will be provided by the band Wheel House.
Earl and her musical group, Belle Musique, will also be on hand to perform. The all-female trio sings and rings English handbells.
"Its gonna be really nice," Glasgow said. "It's going to be like you are at home."
Glasgow is also donating a bag of bagels and cream cheese to each guest. The meal will be offered from 2 to 5 p.m. at Bagelmania.
Earl is planning on 50 people, but no matter how many show up, she hopes to provide — at least for those few hours — the warm embrace of a home for the holidays.