Oakland storekeeper unites neighbors, celebrates Thanksgiving as cultural cornucopia

OAKLAND — The Alawdi family continued its tradition of providing a warm Thanksgiving meal for their community in Oakland’s Dimond District for the 20th year Thursday. The celebration brings together people of all backgrounds for a free dinner featuring the cuisine of cultures around the world.

“This is a day that we give back,” said Farouq Alawdi, one of the owners of 2 Star Market. “The spirit and the vibe is there, the community spirit, the spirit of giving.”

Alawdi’s family is originally from Yemen. He saw an opportunity to embrace the teachings of their faith with Thanksgiving in their new home. By taking what they’ve learned and celebrated each year during the holy month of Ramadan, they found a connection to a new tradition which they’ve maintained for two decades.

“It’s part of life man, giving back and doing what you do,” said Joseph Kearse, a volunteer who has offered his skills as professional chef for eight years. “Each year there’s more and more people involved and more volunteers from all different walks of life — different nationalities, different backgrounds, different religions — and this day brings us all together, which is a beautiful thing.”

People started lining up while a team of volunteers made the final preparations in the parking lot of the grocery and liquor store Thursday. Those who have tried the food before made a point to return this year. Cuisine from around the world is served along with turkey and traditional Thanksgiving side. In addition to dinner, there is music and food and clothing donations available for pickup.

“I look forward to it every year. I actually, this year, had to come by and ask ‘are you going to do it this year?'” said Wes Clark. After waiting in line and getting seated at one of the community tables with his dog Jack, he enjoyed a full plate. “It’s good. It’s a lot.”

The event started as a much smaller gathering involving around 50 people in its first year. This Thanksgiving they have 200 volunteers providing nearly 1,000 servings.

“It’s a family and a community event, everyone ends up bringing up another person,” said Aleja Rambonga, volunteer coordinator who has been a part of the team for 10 years.

She leads a team that begins planning as soon as November arrives with food preparations starting the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

The Alawdi family opened their store in 1985 and remain grateful for the support from their community that has kept them in business. Even in hard times like the pandemic and personal tragedy like the loss of Farouq’s mother last month, they have kept this celebration going.

“If it wasn’t for the community, we wouldn’t be here,” Alawdi said.

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