Before Baywatch, there was homelessness.
Which helps explain why actor and independent filmmaker Donna D'Errico left her home in southern California to serve turkey dinners at Winnipeg's Siloam Mission on Thanksgiving Day.
"I was homeless myself, a long time ago," D'Errico said Monday at Siloam.
"This was before Baywatch. I never told anyone about it -- not because I was ashamed, it never came up," said D'Errico, invited by her cousin Ron D'Errico of the Impact Security Group.
'I know what it's like to wash your undergarments in a public washroom with your little boy there'
But she knows what life is like for many among the 900-plus people who came to the downtown mission for turkey.
She was young, in an abusive relationship, and had a two-year-old child, said D'Errico, who would only say it happened somewhere in the United States.
"I left; I was on government assistance," she said. "I know what it's like to wash your undergarments in a public washroom with your little boy there," she said. "People just need a little help to get back on their feet.
"People look the other way -- I want them to help," said D'Errico.
Siloam Mission needs to raise $30,000 for a walk-in freezer, and to support an online auction to raise the money, D'Errico brought stuff to donate, "including an original swimsuit from Baywatch signed by the entire cast, including David Hasselhoff," she said.
"I volunteer at the L.A. mission," D'Errico said. "I didn't expect it to be this big, this huge."
"It's the busiest day of the year," said Siloam executive director Floyd Perras, who expected up to 1,000 people for eight sittings of a full turkey dinner, served by 100 volunteers. This year, guests, who usually line up on Princess Street, instead drank coffee and listened to live musicians on the fourth floor while awaiting their dinner sitting.
Siloam feeds 1,200 meals a day, but has been serving Thanksgiving dinner for eight years. "The reason doing these big meals is so important is to give people a real holiday," said Perras.
Siloam staff and volunteers begin cooking and freezing portions of the meal up to two months ahead, making a large walk-in freezer an absolute necessity.
Dwight Lacquette said he's been coming for years. Monday, he brought his wife and three kids.
"I used to stay upstairs" in a room, Lacquette said. "I used to live here before -- they helped me change my life around. I'm working now."
His family walked 10 minutes or so and arrived 80 minutes before the first serving.
"It's good to have it here. If they didn't have this, a lot of people would be walking out on the street," he said.
One cheerful Siloam volunteer had a hearty "Happy Thanksgiving" to everyone riding the elevator between the dining room and the entertainment hall.
To which one guest replied: "I'm thankful I'm still alive."