3 dead, 5 sick after Thanksgiving meal in California

The dinner was for senior citizens, homeless and others alone on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving turkey, file. (Anthony Quintano/Creative Commons)
Thanksgiving turkey, file. (Anthony Quintano/Creative Commons)

ANTIOCH, Calif. (KRON) — Three people are dead and others were hospitalized after having Thanksgiving dinner at the Veterans Memorial Hall in Antioch.

Eight patients were admitted to Sutter Delta Medical Center with probable foodborne illnesses between Friday, Nov. 25 and Saturday, Nov. 26, according to the Center.

Three patients have died, four patients were treated and released, and one patient is still in the hospital.

The Contra Costa Health Department is investigating what caused the illness, but they do not think it is a risk to the general public.

Contra Costa Health Services spokeswoman Victoria Balladares said she didn’t know what organization was responsible for preparing the meals, but said it was a non-profit group serving a traditional Thanksgiving meal to roughly 835 people.

“If it were a food-borne outbreak, we’d expect to see a lot more people getting sick,” Balladares said.

County public health and environmental health officials are conducting an investigation to determine just what might have killed and sickened the diners, but Balladares said there is no current risk to the general public.

Typically, Loaves and Fishes, a nonprofit that provides free meals to low-income and homeless residents, uses the Veterans Memorial Hall to serve its lunches.

Loaves and Fishes, however, was not the group responsible for the Thanksgiving meal and they will continue to provide meals as usual, Balladares said.

Golden Hills Community Church in Brentwood hosted the Thanksgiving dinner at the Veterans Memorial Hall, according to Autrey James, commander at American Legion Post 161.

“We are extremely, extremely upset that anyone lost their lives,” James said. “We were not ourselves involved in the cooking of the meal.”

The church group has been serving its Thanksgiving meal at the facility for the past 20 years and there has never been a problem.

The dinner was for senior citizens, homeless and others who would be alone for Thanksgiving.

It is unclear at this time if the meal is connected to the foodborne illness.

The building is actually owned and maintained by Contra Costa County, American Legion Post 161 spokeswoman Janet Wilson said. American Legion Post 161 maintains and cleans the interior of the building, and does have some signage on the building.

Although the location where the Thanksgiving meal was held is known as the American Legion Hall, Wilson said that the proper title is the Veterans Memorial Hall.

Many organizations, including the Boy Scouts of America, Loaves and Fishes of Contra Costa County, and Golden Hills Community Church use that building.

Golden Hills Community Church has been hosting their Thanksgiving meal at the American Legion Hall/Veterans Memorial Hall for 20 years, and there has never been a problem, Wilson said.

Wilson said that it is the responsibility of the organizations that use the space to ensure the area is clean for food handling (both before and after use).

Wilson also added that both Loaves and Fishes of Contra Costa County and Golden Hills Community Church do not prepare food at the American Legion Hall/Veterans Memorial Hall.

Rather, the food is prepared and delivered outside the building, according to Wilson.

Golden Hills Community Church issued a statement regarding the illnesses.

We recently were informed that several people from the same care facility in Antioch, who were at our Antioch Th­anksgiving Dinner, became sick and it is reported that 3 of them have died. County Health officials have informed us that the source of the illness is not known and could have come from any of a number of sources. Our dinner in Antioch is only one of a number of possibilities that County Health is investigating. We are fully cooperating with health officials and are praying fervently for the families who lost loved ones and for others who are sick. We will try to post updates from County Health as we are
made aware.