Thanksgiving ‘Feast’ continues to delight

Take a look, and see why volunteers keep carrying on this annual Thanksgiving Day tradition of feeding anyone who comes by …

Volunteer Katie Baker wheels in a cart loaded with food to be served at the 2016 Feast for Southeast.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

Diners and volunteers alike were anticipating the now-annual Thanksgiving Day tradition called “Feast for Southeast”, with 2016 being its seventh year – it’s still held at Portland Parks & Recreation’s Mt. Scott Community Center, and this year it was on the afternoon of November 24.

Even though founders Rob Selva and Carolina Selva have stepped back from the project, volunteers have stepped forward to make sure it continues to thrive, smiled Project Director Kendall Palmer.

Just before dinner is served, Project Director Kendall Palmer spends a moment with volunteer Marie Manuel.

“In fact, for the last five years, many volunteers have wanted to start an official nonprofit organization – so we can serve our community in more ways, and in more places,” Palmer told East Portland News.

So it is that now, the Feast is held under a new banner – “Gather”. This organization includes “Project Socks” and “Project Bookworm” – both which have actively participated at recent Feast for Southeast gatherings.

Volunteers from “Project Socks” – Joseph Thurman and Dave Hainline – prepare for the dinner guests’ arrival.

“We also want to work with projects such as gardening and music, expanding into the community and bringing people together,” Palmer said. “There are so many people who want to volunteer; we want to provide more opportunities year ’round. We expect to host additional activities in 2017.”

As she told about the new organization, a steady stream of volunteers came into the Community Center, and the kitchen crew started unloading food.

Welcoming guests to the dining room are volunteers Rebecca Halbig and daughter Zoe.

A half-dozen volunteers serve a compete Thanksgiving dinner, including two entrees and side dishes.

They’d planned to serve 700 people during the afternoon, but a heavy downpour of rain – Thanksgiving was the second-rainiest day of the year to date in Southeast Portland – reduced the number of guests who found their way to the event. “We have about 300 volunteers involved in this, so it’s almost a two to one ratio of volunteers to participants,” Palmer remarked.

Returning this year was Chef Melissa Payne of KitchenCru Culinary Prepspace, who oversaw the food preparation for the Feast, including:

  • 137 pounds of ham
  • 170 pounds of turkey
  • 80 pounds of glazed carrots
  • 216 pounds of mashed potatoes
  • “A whole lot” of dressing

In the dining room, guest Christopher Hanton thanks Chef Melissa Payne: “I’m feeling really thankful for this good meal, and for you bringing the community together.

As guests were being served, Chef Payne said Feast is now her Thanksgiving Day “home”, and is already looking forward to next year. “When I was a teenager, I lost my mother; ever since then I really haven’t had a place to go for Thanksgiving Day,” Payne reflected.

“Once I found out about Feast, and heard that they needed a chef, I was happy to step in,” she added. “I’d rather spend the day with 800 strangers than spend it alone – I just love seeing the smiles on their faces getting a fresh hot meal.”

Part of the “dessert crew” are volunteers Joseph Lampert and Jasmine Rucker.

In a return engagement, Slim Bacon musically entertains diners.

Even though some who arrived looked uncomfortable coming to a free dinner – it’s open to all, regardless of need – almost all of the guests were cheered by the upbeat attitude of the volunteers, some of whom were designated as “table hosts” to chat with the folks who were dining alone.

Other volunteers served beverages, and still others provided desserts, delivered right to the table.

“We want everyone who comes here to feel like they’re getting treated to a great dinner, served in a really good restaurant,” Chef Payne explained. “It’s more than charity; it’s about building community together!”

Diners enjoy a delicious Thanksgiving dinner at this year’s Feast for Southeast.

After dinner, guests are invited into the community center Gym to pick out items of clothing, and books.

This year’s “Feast for Southeast” sponsors Honor Roll:

Southeast Uplift ~ Portland Parks
Great Harvest Bread in Clackamas
Marsee Bakery ~ New Seasons Market
Trader Joe’s Market ~ Hope City Church
Scratch Made Market ~ Papaccino’s
Space Monkey Coffee ~ Pacific Foods
Starbucks ~ Kitchen Cru
Access Community Church
Brentwood-Darlington Neighborhood Association
Portland Police Sunshine Division

Find out more about “Gather” by visiting their website:  CLICK HERE.

© 2016 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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