Pantries full of kindness

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Holiday family get-togethers often come with the stresses of cooking a big family meal.

Imagine, then, cooking a VERY big family meal with hundreds of servings of turkey and the trimmings.

Many charitable organizations do just that, year after year.

And whatever ingredients are used for the Thanksgiving meal at the Christian Aid Center, executive director Jason Wicklund adds one more:

“Patience. Lots of patience.”

As the shelter gears up for Thanksgiving and another big dinner around the corner on Christmas, the waiting list for shelter for families isn’t as long as it has been in the past. But the need for help and food, along with the helpings of holiday cheer and shared blessings haven’t diminished at all.

“It’s open to anybody,” Wicklund said. “Folks that are homeless and the working poor.”

Wicklund said people who’ve hit hard times may still be working but not making enough money to extricate themselves from the financial difficulties. If they are homeless, coming up with enough rent and deposit money to secure housing may be difficult. The holidays add to the stress, as does the cold winter weather.

If they have endured losses and are grieving the deaths of loved ones, the loss of a job or home, the holidays can be a time of despair.

That makes a holiday meal “comfort food” in the highest sense.

“The dining hall is always full,” said Monika Dowling, Christian Aid’s kitchen manager. “We can seat 84 people. That’s the number of chairs we have. We serve about 70-125 people.”

Preparing the meal for that many guests requires a good amount of food.

“We cook eight turkeys,” Dowling said. “We go through 60 pounds of potatoes. For the green bean casserole, we get those big number 10 cans. We use five of them.”

And boxes of stuffing? She’s not sure how many — but it’s a lot.

The free meals are served starting at 2 p.m. on Thanksgiving until the food is gone, Dowling said.

The cooks are always members of the Chuck and Rebecca Olmstead family. The Larry and Claire Siegel family do the serving each year. John and Ina Jean Cowden decorate the dining hall, and a number of other volunteers do the cleanup and otherwise help in whatever ways are necessary.

Now imagine even a bigger meal.

St. Vincent de Paul, the Salvation Army and area churches put on such a communitywide feast around Thanksgiving each year, hosted by DeSales Catholic High School. This year’s event is today, from 4-6:30 p.m.

“Last year was the largest number we’ve ever served, 965 meals,” said coordinator Deanna Smith.

The meal necessitates a large grocery list: 24 turkeys, two cases of instant potatoes, 100 pies, four cases of yams. They also end up with seven large roasters full of dressing and 15 gallons of gravy.

The meal is free to the community, Smith said. It’s especially geared toward those who are alone for the holidays and want some holiday cheer, and there’s always a line to get in when the serving starts.

DeSales students work as servers for the meal. And they have plenty of work to do. School staff and students also make sure there are chairs for those waiting.

“It’s a community effort,” she said. “I’m surprised at how giving people are. We’ve never completely run out of food. We always seem to have enough.”

Walla Walla’s Center at the Park staff and volunteers prepare not one, but two large Thanksgiving time meals. The first was last week, the next is on Wednesday from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. For people 60 and older, there is a suggested donation of $4; people younger than 60 are charged $7.

“We probably serve about 100,” executive director Howard Ostby said. “With Meals on Wheels that day, too, you can add another 100.” Twelve people work to get the meals ready.

“They start at 6 a.m. and cook all morning. Meals on Wheels go out at 10:30,” he said. Then, a half-hour later the meal begins in the dining room.

Pass the good cheer —and patience — please.

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