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Community Thanksgiving dinner carves out new venue

Tammy Malgesini

East Oregonian

Published on November 14, 2017 6:18PM

Last changed on November 14, 2017 10:22PM

Volunteers Dick Hensley, second from left, and Astrid Hensley give plates of food to Chloe and Micah Madore on the serving line during the 2016 Community Fellowship Dinner. The free meal will be held on Thanksgiving at Hermiston High School.

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Volunteers Dick Hensley, second from left, and Astrid Hensley give plates of food to Chloe and Micah Madore on the serving line during the 2016 Community Fellowship Dinner. The free meal will be held on Thanksgiving at Hermiston High School.

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The Community Fellowship Dinner in Hermiston is gearing up for the 2017 season at a new venue.

Due to the construction of a new senior center, the free community Thanksgiving and Christmas meals will be held in the main commons at Hermiston High School, 600 S. First St. The first of the twice-yearly holiday meals will be served Thanksgiving Day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The traditional meal features turkey and all the trimmings, side dishes and desserts.

Chairman Gary Humphreys wants to make sure people know the dinners are still available to everyone in the community. Signs will be posted in town and on the school’s grounds to help guide people to the meal.

The event’s committee is excited about the change in venue. The high school offers a far superior kitchen as well as additional space for guests to eat, said Humphreys and kitchen manager Jan Cassens.

Also the committee’s vice chairwoman, Cassens called the kitchen facilities “magnificent.” She said it will substantially cut back on preparation time.

“We think we can grow here,” Cassens said. “At the senior center, we could only seat 200 at a time. If we had more come in they would have to wait for a seat. We won’t have that problem now.”

The idea behind the meal began in 1988 when a Hermiston man, who has requested to remain anonymous, opened his home to 30 people on Thanksgiving. After experiencing many holidays by himself, he wanted to offer food and fellowship to others who might be alone. The meal expanded and moved to the Hermiston Senior Center.

In 1990, Laurie Ball (who later married Joe Kiser after his wife died) volunteered at the Thanksgiving meal and then took the reins coordinating the Christmas dinner. A board of directors was created in the early 1990s to help guide the holiday meal ministry. By the beginning of the new millennium, more than 500 dinners were served each Thanksgiving, which increased to 700-800. The Christmas event historically provides fewer meals, although 600-700 ate at the 2011 and 2012 meals.

Humphreys, Cassens and other longtime volunteers Tom Marks and Cathy Stolz said Ball-Kiser possessed strong leadership skills needed for the meal’s growth. The Hermiston woman, in declining health the past few years, suffered several strokes that eventually led to her death June 19 at the age of 64.

“She genuinely cared about every person on her team, every volunteer and, most of all, every recipient of a Community Fellowship Dinner,” Stolz said.

In addition, Marks said Ball-Kiser was instrumental in mentoring a group in Boardman in developing a community meal in their community.

A volunteer set-up party for the Community Fellowship Dinner is Wednesday, Nov. 22 at 7 a.m. If that’s too early for some folks, volunteers may come later as there will be plenty to do in preparation for the meal. Also, volunteers are needed Thanksgiving Day, with tasks including greeters, servers, parking attendants and delivery drivers. Whether volunteering for a short shift or all day, any help is greatly appreciated. To assist with planning, organizers encourage volunteers to call or send an email.

For more information, to volunteer, for food delivery service or for a ride to the meal, contact cfdhermiston@gmail.com or 541-371-9772. Additional information is available at www.facebook.com/CommunityFellowshipDinnerHermistonOR. Financial donations can be sent to Community Fellowship Dinner in Hermiston, P.O. Box 1551, Hermiston, OR 97838.

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Contact Community Editor Tammy Malgesini at tmalgesini@eastoregonian.com or 541-564-4539



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