Volunteers toil, so community can enjoy Thanksgiving feast

See why this event – which started with an organizer’s dream – is growing by leaps and bounds …

At the front door of the Mt. Scott Community Center, volunteers Lacy Hefley, Cheryl Russell, and Kendall Russell welcome visitors to the “Feast for Southeast”, and give them meal tickets.

Story and photo by David F. Ashton
What if people came together to serve Thanksgiving dinner to anyone who desired it, regardless of their finances or their station in life?

This was the question that kept running through the mind Southeast Portland resident Roberto Selva in 2010, he said. It caused him to create what is known as “Feast for Southeast”, now held annually at Portland Parks & Recreation’s (PP&R) Mt. Scott Community Center.

Visiting the 2012 feast showed us that this public event has clearly matured.

Guest Ken Twigg gives his dinner ticket to volunteer Jerome Funchess.

Originators Carolina Selva and Rob Selva greet Commissioner Nick Fish, along with co-director Louisa Lakos.

Although it’s not promoted as a free dinner for the down-and-out, many of their patrons acknowledged that they wouldn’t have had a hot meal if it hadn’t been for this banquet.

“We brought in a co-director, Louisa Lakos, to help us expand and grow the event,”

Selva told East Portland News. “We are in growth mode – with a staff of 14, who are all very passionate about what we do.”

The Feast has many contributors, but Selva started by thanking Chef Instructor Josh Hobson of Oregon Culinary Institute for helping coordinate the food service and cooking. From the planning through the serving the dinner, more than 200 people had volunteered, he said.

Volunteers Jen Hughes and Phyllis Solow serve Thanksgiving dinner.

“It’s quite an undertaking,” Selva mused. “Along with all the trimmings and dessert, we’re serving about 285 pounds of turkey and about 165 pounds of ham to very close to 500 guests this year.”

New this year were “table tents”, each inscribed with a donor’s name, and a statement for about what they’re thankful for.

7-year-old Cooper Long a second-grade student at Creative Science School Montavilla saved for months to “sponsor a table” to the Feast.

“We found an easy tangible way for families in the neighborhood to be a part of Feast for Southeast,” Selva smiled. “Sponsoring a table helps us offset the cost of food and supplies.”

One table sponsor was 7-year-old Cooper Long, second-grader in Montavilla’s Creative Science School. After hearing about the project, he saved up his money for six months to become a table sponsor at this year’s event.

Emblazoned on Long’s sponsor card were the words, “I am thankful for my whole entire family, even my pets and friends.”

Emil Jackson, dining at the table sponsored by the young man, looked down after he read the card and said, “Isn’t that something. He gave up things he could have had, so we could have something nice to eat here today.”

The 2012 “Feast for Southeast” serves hundreds of people during this annual event.

Guitarist Michael Gargano serenades with beautiful arrangements of popular and seasonal favorites.

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish commented that he, and his kids, Maria and Chapin, had come to help out. “We looked up places that were serving a Thanksgiving Day meal, and found Mt. Scott to be one of the biggest gatherings. So, we just drove out here and volunteered.”

Looking around the auditorium, temporarily turned into a vast dining room, Fish said, “I am so impressed with the volunteers and the organizers who put this citizen-run Thanksgiving feast. And I’m proud that they chose to do it at Mt. Scott Community Center.”

Selva responded, “In addition to our partners and community volunteers, I can’t thank the Community Center enough for letting us host it here.

“And, we’ve had huge support from families in the neighborhood – families, and individual people we don’t know – who that have donated monetarily; it really helps us be a viable organization.”

This year’s five “Feast for Southeast” general sponsors were the Oregon Culinary Institute, SE Uplift, the Woodstock UPS Store, Warner Pacific College, and Alice Ott Middle School.

Helping needy families put toys in Christmas stockings is volunteer Peter Krochmal.

Project Warmth (formerly Socks for Southeast), a project of “Feast for Southeast”, gives new and unused socks, hats, scarves, and gloves to community members in need, during the Feast.

The event had the support of seven neighborhood associations, as well as six families and 23 businesses who were “Table Sponsors”.

See the complete listing of sponsors – and learn how you can become involved with this worthy project next year by going to their website: CLICK HERE to open their homepage.

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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