KCRA Salvation Army Food Truck Thanksgiving
Ever since I’ve been shooting TV news, if I’m working Thanksgiving Day, I can count on being at shelter or a church filming traditional Thanksgiving meals being served to those in need. It just goes with the job, no getting around it.
This year, however, for the first time, I not only shot the story, but I was also given the opportunity to report it as well. A brass ring that I gladly grabbed and ran with.
The Sacramento Salvation Army Community Center has been in Oak Park since the mid-1960s, but in all those fifty years it had never offered Thanksgiving meals, whereas the Salvation Army Center on North B Street, closer to downtown, has been serving Thanksgiving meals to the needy for long before I started working here.
The other unique aspect to this first-time event is that the Salvation Army center in Oak Park has a fully operational kitchen and prepared the turkey, but the sides were all done by Sacramento-based food trucks, who put their own individual gourmet stamp on their food. Much less institutional and vastly more personal–and delicious!*
(*My Personal Free Kitchen Food Policy: I can only assume this and am going on what the guests told me. I have a personal policy of never accepting food at these events, even though it is always offered to me, and I am grateful for their generosity. However, I believe that the food is there for those who are in need, which I am fortunate–at this time–not to be, so I won’t take a morsel away from someone else who truly could use it.)
Covering/Filming the Needy: When I cover these events I try to keep a respectful distance from the folks coming in for a needed hot meal. I don’t want to be exploitive. And I don’t want to focus on faces with close-ups. I understand people who are having a bad time and a little down on their luck. If someone looks at me and motions that they’d rather not be filmed I always tell them, “No problem. Happy Thanksgiving to you. How’s the food?” And I’ll lower my camera and shake their hand.
Interview Questions–Keep it Cool, Courteous & Respectful: I need to talk to a few folks, but out of a group there are always a few people who are happy to talk on-camera. The main thing, I have found, is to be relaxed, easy, and have a good smile to try to disarm them. Then, I keep the questions easy and not to pointed about why they are there. I’ll just say something general like, “May I ask you, on this Thanksgiving Day, would you mind telling me what you’re thankful about?” By phrasing the question this way, I am first asking their permission to ask them, then I keep the question so general that the ball is in their court as to how much they’d care to tell me. In doing it this unobtrusive, non-invasive way, you can get some truly open responses. It’s very simple: mutual respect and courtesy can go a long way. Just judge for yourself by the responses I got.
Interviews–Ask for the Names at the End of the Interview: I don’t know who is teaching reporters, either in college or their first jobs, but so many reporters I work with, both new and who’ve been in the business for years and years, will start of their interview by saying, “Now first, give me your name.” Or “Let me get your name?” I think that’s terribly rude! Not even asking, just saying “Give me your name.” Not even making it a question.
What I do is go up to someone and say: “I’m with KCRA and I’m covering this thing. Could I talk to you for a minute?” I have the camera on my shoulder and a big microphone in my hand, so I’m not hiding anything. If they say yes then I’ll just start out by asking them a simple opener break-the-ice question: “So tell me about this event? What do you think of it and what brought you here?” Simple, easy, open-ended. Then I may dig a little deeper to try to get a little more personal answer. But at the end I’ll say, and I’ll say these exact words: “Thank you. That was great. Now, let me ask your name so I can have it on tape?” I ask this at the end because by this time I have earned the trust of the person I was talking with. And after they say their name, which is almost always done with a smile, I’ll ask for the spelling, because in California Jackie could be Jaki or Jacqui or Jacky or Jacqie, and also their last name. I think it’s much more polite and gets the interview started as a chat or a talk and much less formal and relaxed.
Talk to all kinds of people: On stories like this, I try to talk to as many people that I can, all types of people, just asking two questions or so, nothing taking longer that two minutes in all. This way, the more sound I have, the more the people who are there are telling their own story. Journalism is about other people’s stories, after all.
Don’t Focus on Minorities: When I shoot these types of events I am sure to film & talk to people of as many different ethnicities as possible. (NOTE: I strive to do this on every story, because I see too many people of one or the other ethnicity in stories.) Even if the numbers of people of different ethnicities are not even, I alternate in my footage because I do not want to be accused of only showing a low-income minority as a person in need. In this event it was quite diverse. But it is important to pay attention to this both in filming and then later in the editing to present diversity. In California this is pretty easy–we are the most diverse state in the Union, and Sacramento is the most statistically diverse city in the U.S.
Putting the Story Together: Then, when I return to the station to write, I first log the interviews, and from that sound I start cutting and pasting the story.
As an example, for aspiring journalists, to get an idea of how the finished story came to be, here are my log sheets of the 24-minutes or so of footage I shot:
CARROLL—-Salvation Army Food Truck Thanksgiving—-11-26-2015
ERIN KAUFMAN Salvation Army
Cl 01 .40 We do have a kitchen, but the Salvation Army likes to partner with other groups. I mean, it’s a huge blessing to be able to help other people, so the more people we can involve to make a difference in the community, I think, the better community we have to live in.
[I will write out tentative script as I am logging and as the words come to me.]
TRADITIONALLY THE SALVATION ARMY HAS HOSTED THANKSGIVING MEALS AT THEIR FACILITY AT NORTH B STREET, BUT IN THE FIFTY YEARS THEY’VE BEEN IN OAK PARK, THIS IS THE FIRST TIME THEY’VE SERVED THANKSGIVING MEALS HERE.
1.12 A lot of people in this community can’t get down there. And here we have a great big gym
1.22 We have a full-size gym here that’s been here for twenty years and it’s a perfect place to have a community meal.
1.37 With it being the first year, a hundred, could be five hundred. I just hope this grows up to a thousand. 1.42
ANDREW BLASKOVICH Drewski’s Hot Rod Kitchen
CL 02 2.41 Each truck was responsible for one component of the entire meal. I took care of the string beans with the bacon, the lemon zest and the onions.
2.55 We all coordinated and collaborated for one giant meal
AND THESE MEALS WERE FOR EVERYBODY.
3.31 Or even just someone who’s lonely and wants to come down here and have a nice meal with somebody.
CL 03 4.14 Hand clasp—hug—
Cl 08 5.30 here you go, sir.—thank you.—you’re welcome. Have a great day.—
Cl 09 4.55 —happy thanksgiving, there you go. Watch it, might be heavy—
Cl 24 10.45 I had never seen that either. But the food is really good. Looks like it’s cooked at home.
11.05 It’s very important. I actually am a foster youth, so I don’t really have a family home to sit at and eat at this Thanksgiving, so this is very grateful, appreciative to have a door you can walk in and eat at on the Holidays.
Cl 27 12.18 I just got new teeth, so I’m trying ‘em out. New uppers. –SMILES-
12.33 Happy Thanksgiving to everybody.
KEITH BREEDLOVE Culinary Cruise
Cl 35 17.44 Being that today is also my birthday, this is how I like to celebrate is by giving somebody else something.
18.00 I’ve had my truck for three years now.
18.14 They’ve never had one here before. This is the first year.
18.35 We’re all professional cooks
18.58 Our dish that we were charged with is the stuffing. We don’t have an oven so it’s all done on the grill.
Cl 47 27.53 Smells great, smells real great. And it looks great.
28.23 I’m blessed.
CL 49 29.07 —you’re welcome. Happy thanksgiving—
Since this was the first time this was being held at this center in Oak Park, the turnout was not heavy. Everyone was very outgoing and welcoming.
Final Note: It’s A Small World: When you are out shooting news stories on the streets you never know who you’re going to run into. While shooting this story one of the shooters from Fox40 was there, a terrific young man named Mason Silva, who got his start as an intern in his first or second year of community college, in Stockton, I think, and did everything right and I made a call to Ed Chapuis, news director at Fox40 and former news director at KCRA, told him about Mason and he gave him a chance. I posted this on Facebook. Very happy for this man and proud to know him.