“A Wonderful Heart:” Community Remembers South LA Philanthropist E.J. Jackson

By Marisa Zocco

Ellsworth Jackson and his daughter Lyn Tavai in 2011/ Photo courtesy of Lyn Tavai

Community members mourned the loss of South Los Angeles business owner and philanthropist Ellsworth Jackson, who died yesterday, according to the Jackson Limousine, the company he owned.

Jackson, better known as E.J. throughout his community and among friends and family, was best known for his annual service, giving turkeys and groceries to over 10,000 people in need of Thanksgiving dinners. He was also owner of Jackson Limousine.

On Wednesday morning, a press conference was held to address the death of the man who helped provide others with a warm meal on the day of thanks for over 30 years. But what’s more important than the holiday turkey giveaway, Congresswoman Maxine Waters said, was the giving he did every day.

“Even though we are all focused on the Thanksgiving giveaway, he was doing this all year,” Waters said. “People would seek him out because they had nothing, they were hungry, they were looking for food and he was there.”

Jackson’s passion for giving to his community, many say, outshined his glossy fleet vehicles that chauffeured A-list celebrities to a slew of events. Those who have received his help, like Ricky Henry, who grew up around Jackson, noted his unconditional kindness.

“He was a God-hearted person,” said Henry. “When I was down on my luck . . . he always gave me something to do, gave me some work. Always gave me a good word.”

He was also an inspiration whose work has inspired Lorenzo Evans-Murphey to, as he says, pick up the torch. Though Evans-Murphey has been following Jackson’s work for years, the two met for the first time just weeks ago when Jackson came to meet with him about his South Bay coalition he says is gearing up to feed 5,000 people in 13 cities this Thanksgiving.

“He let us know it’s gonna be a long road ahead of us and spoke that day about how you gotta do [sic] because you don’t know how long you gonna be here to keep doing it,” Evans-Murphey said. “So, that stuck with me, and now he’s gone today, and that’s why I’m here to represent.”

The E.J. Jackson Foundation, began in 1982 when several seniors came to Jackson for help purchasing turkeys for the holiday. They couldn’t afford them on their fixed incomes, so he bought turkeys — 100 of them.

“The next year he provided 200 turkeys and the following year 500,” the foundation’s website reads. “Thirty-four years later, the event has grown to providing 12,000-plus turkeys with groceries. . . “

Even in times of doubt, Jackson maintained faith in the human spirit and in God.

“Walk by faith not by sight,” Jackson told Intersections in 2012 when he had struggled to meet funding needs for the giveaway, but was able to deliver due to last-minute generosity of sponsors and community members. “I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t have any doubts, but I knew God would provide.”

Jackson’s death comes just weeks before his 34th annual turkey grocery giveaway, scheduled for Nov. 22.

Still, longtime friend Jesus Garber announced, the 34th Annual Turkey Grocery Giveaway will go on. But he also made a plea. Garber said there was a shortage in funds that still needs to be met to feed all who are in need.

“If you can go to the E.J. Jackson foundation website and please donate generously,” Garber said. “[E.J.’s] heart always went out to the disadvantaged, the underemployed, the retired, the single-family parents and those that did not have.”

That compassion is what Jackson’s son, Tyron, will miss the most.

“I will remember him as a person with a wonderful heart who gave back; who treated people as humans and not as a business,” Jackson said. “I loved that about him.”