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LGBT youth give thanks for support

By Edwin Folven, 11/21/2012

More than 200 young adults enjoy holiday dinner

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A few years ago, 22-year-old Alexander Pacach was kicked out of his parents’ home because he was gay. He found himself moving from house to house, sleeping on friends’ couches, uncertain about where his next meal would come from, much less where he would have Thanksgiving dinner.

Volunteers served a Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings to LGBT youths at the annual “Big Feast” hosted by CITYx1. (photo by Paul Wagner/Doheny LLC)

Last Sunday, Pacach enjoyed turkey and all the trimmings thanks to CITYx1, a non-profit organization serving LGBT young adults in Hollywood and West Hollywood that held its 10th annual “Big Feast” at the La Luna banquet hall on Vermont Avenue. Pacach now volunteers for CITYx1 as way of giving thanks to an organization that helped him in his time of need. Pacach said CITYx1 linked him with health services, HIV testing and other resources on his road to self-sufficiency. He currently is employed by Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, providing peer outreach and HIV testing, and has an apartment in Koreatown. Without the help of social service organizations such as CITYx1, which regularly hosts events where LGBT young people can come together in an alcohol and drug free environment and learn about social services available in the community, Pacach said he would probably be on the streets.

“I was kicked out because of my sexual orientation, and I was looking for support. Not only for a meal, but for a warm place to go,” Pacach said. “I didn’t celebrate Thanksgiving much back then, but then I heard about CITYx1. They helped me get the help I needed. It was great having a place to go like the Thanksgiving ‘Big Feast’. It’s definitely a place to go if you can’t celebrate Thanksgiving traditionally.”

Carlos Sosa, executive director of CITYx1, said more than 200 young adults ages 18 to 24 enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner at the “Big Feast” this year. When Sosa founded CITYx1 — which is an acronym for Community Intervention Through Youth, to the power of one — and held the first “Big Feast”, five to 10 people got together for the Thanksgiving dinner. Now, organizations such as the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center and the city of West Hollywood help promote the event by posting flyers and announcements on their websites. Much of the growth, however, can be attributed to word of mouth from past attendees, Sosa added.

“We started as a pot luck for five to ten kids who didn’t have anywhere to go. The next year, we had 125 people come to the dinner, and we had a lot of contributors. I’ve had people come from as far north as San Jose, and as far south as San Diego,” Sosa said. “It’s gone from a humble event to what we had [last Sunday]. It’s a huge, night and day difference.”

Many contributors help make the “Big Feast” a success, Sosa said. While most of the food was purchased using monetary donations provided to the organization, the Andaz Hotel in West Hollywood donated 30 pies, and an anonymous donor provided $1,000 in McDonald’s gift certificates to be distributed to attendees. In addition to the Thanksgiving meal, participants could get information from Planned Parenthood, the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center, USC and Colors, an organization that provided counseling and emotional support for LGBT youth.

“It definitely has a community feel,” he said. “We get homeless kids, we get kids from group homes and we get people who just heard about it and don’t have anywhere else to go. There is still a need. Kids gravitate toward us.”

Sosa said the “Big Feast” is one of many events CITYx1 hosts throughout the year. Next, the organization is planning a tamale party on Dec. 15 to celebrate the Christmas holidays, although the location is still being determined. Sosa hopes to expand upon the offerings in the coming year.

“They need a location where they can feel safe,” Sosa said. “Just because you have a family and somewhere to stay, doesn’t mean you have a home. Just being here and having a safe place to have Thanksgiving means a lot to them. It really is a blending of the rainbow.”

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