Generous neighbors back ‘Feast for Southeast’

Without any grants this year, discover how thankful and openhanded neighbors and businesses made this community dinner the best one yet …

At the 2015 Feast for Southeast, volunteer Nicole Payne serves up hot coffee to guests waiting in line to enjoy the dinner offered again at the Mt. Scott Community Center.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

When they started the grassroots project “for the community, by the community” called “Feast for Southeast”, six years ago at the Mt. Scott Community Center, Roberto Selva and Carol Selva had no way of knowing that the Thanksgiving Day event would continue, and grow, each year since.

The Selvas have stepped back; now hundreds of volunteers have come forward to carry on providing a hot Thanksgiving dinner, as well as clothing, books, and more food, to members of the community.

In the tiny kitchen, Chef Melissa Payne is ready to pull out another tray of food for the serving line.

The day before the big dinner, five chefs labored all day and into the night, at the Micro Mercantes Commissary Kitchen in the nearby Portland Mercado building, preparing food for the feast – as we learned from Chef Melissa Payne.

“We prepared 22 turkey breasts, and 20 hams,” Payne said. “And, we made about 250 pounds of mashed potatoes; more than 100 pounds of stuffing; and 200 pounds of carrots. We wanted to make sure we could feed all who came.”

A half dozen volunteers quickly serve waiting guests a complete hot dinner with all the trimmings.

At the Project Kindness booth, Director Kendall Palmer spends a moment with volunteer Alia Bower.

“It’s hard to believe this is our sixth year doing Feast for Southeast,” reflected Project Director Kendall Palmer, who started volunteering years ago, with her husband, serving beverages.

“Every Feast has its own story,” Palmer told East Portland News, adding that this year’s theme could have been “New faces”.

“This year, I asked how many volunteers have been here before,” Palmer said. “Out of the 300 people, only about 12 of them raised their hands. It’s really fun to have a whole new group of people coming in to volunteer to positively impact our community. Our volunteers are amazing.”

“Hosts” assigned to each table interact with guests – with conversation and table games.

Not a ‘soup kitchen’
Feast for Southeast has been, and continues to be, about making connections,” observed Palmer. “What we do here is not related to being a ‘soup kitchen’ in any way – this is all set up to be a celebration.

“Overall, the idea is that this is a meal for the community, presented by the community,” Palmer added. “This is a dinner gathering for everyone; everyone is welcome at the table.”

Entertaining in the Feast for Southeast dining room is Slim Bacon.

The best part of the event for her is seeing people lining up and coming through the door, Palmer said. “The night before, I always worry that ‘we prepared this huge party, and maybe nobody will come.’

“But, everyone comes; without advertising, or promoting it much,” Palmer remarked. “This has become a Thanksgiving Day tradition, leaving a positive footprint in Southeast Portland each year.”

Serving guests the desserts of their choice, at their tables, is volunteer Darrell Wilcox.

Helping to get “Feast for Southeast” started, the group obtained grants over the years. But this year, there were no grants. “This year, it’s being entirely sponsored by neighbors and generous area businesses,” Palmer smiled.

“In fact, I’d say we have incredibly generous donors. Some of our major donors include Pacific Foods, Franz Bakery, Great Harvest Bread, His Bakery in Woodstock, and several coffee shops. We also have generous ‘table sponsors’ from our community – all of our 36 tables are sponsored. Plus, other people just give us money when they walk in.” But those are donations; there is no charge for this Thanksgiving dinner.

Project Warmth volunteer Heather Choate oversees the area that supplies free warm clothing to guests.

In the main gymnasium of the community center, “Project Warmth” and “Project Bookworm” – areas were guests can get free warm clothing and books – were joined by a new area.

“We added ‘Project Kindness’ this year,” Palmer said, walking with us over to the gym.

“We have extra food donations that we can’t use, from Great Harvest Bread and Marsee Baking, who empty out their entire stores for us the night before,” Palmer confided. “So, we created the ‘Project Kindness’ area where we offer these packaged bakery products as well. What we don’t give away today, we will take to a shelter for use this evening.”

The numbers served during this year’s “for the community, by the community” Feast for Southeast haven’t yet been tallied. But the smiling faces of people filled with a warm dinner, some leaving with warm clothing, indicates this year’s Thanksgiving was again a success.

© 2015 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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