HERMISTON — A small army of volunteers descended on Hermiston High School on Thanksgiving Day to help serve roughly 1,100 meals for the annual Community Fellowship Dinner.
Community Fellowship Dinner has been planning its holiday meals since at least August, working to navigate the potentiality of a shutdown on indoor dining or other limits to gatherings.
“We planned for a shutdown,” said Jan Cassens, the kitchen manager and vice-chair of the Community Fellowship Dinner.
In addition to navigating restrictions on gatherings and dine-in service, Community Fellowship Dinner prepared for a potential increase in demand for food with fewer people traveling and economic hardships resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We increased by about a third,” said Cassens. “Last year we did 945 meals and this year we planned for 1,500.”
With 1,500 meals comes a hearty supply of food and volunteerism. Cassens said she and the kitchen crew began cooking 11 days before Thanksgiving and prepared 68, 20- to 24-pound turkeys, 36 cases of mashed potatoes, 30 cases of corn and 1,500 dinner rolls, among numerous other dishes.
“It’s rewarding in its own way,” she said. “It’s rewarding to be able to see so many people working hard and to be able to feed so many people.”
According to Cassens, most of the unserved meals will be donated to local charities.
Cassens, who has helped with the dinner for the last 18 years, said the kitchen team spent a lot of time thinking about how to package the meals so that people wouldn’t run into issues reheating them.
“We wanted to put the gravy in with the rest of the food, but the containers for it weren’t microwavable,” said Cassens. “We put together a tray that people could just microwave and a separate bag of sides.”
For those unable to come pick up meals themselves, Gary Humphreys, the Community Fellowship Dinner board chairman, oversaw the scheduling and delivery of roughly 200 meals to area residents.
“It went pretty well,” he said. “It got a bit slow in the middle before picking up at the end.”
Humphreys has been a part of the Community Fellowship Dinner since his mother dragged him along in 1985, and the idea stuck. Over the years, Humphreys kept coming back and brought his family on board to help out.
While Humphreys and Cassen have been longtime volunteers, the limits on travel and gathering size led John and Nancy Lauck, who usually travel out of the area for the holidays, to come and help volunteer at the Community Fellowship Dinner.
“We’ve always admired the event and with the inability to travel this year, it seemed like the perfect time to lend a hand,” said Nancy Lauck. “It’s wonderful to get the chance to help. It’s rewarding and helps people out.”
The Hermiston High School football team and a group of missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also donated time to volunteer to help make sure the event went off without a hitch.
“We’re really grateful to both groups for all of their help and hard work,” Humphreys said.
In Pendleton, the Salvation Army spent the morning turning out roughly 200 meals for delivery and takeout. Maj. Toni Halstad said the Salvation Army has been busier than usual delivering its daily meals during the pandemic.
“We knocked it out and got it all together,” he said. “We didn’t have any issues getting meals made and put together.”
Halstad said the Salvation Army delivered roughly 90 meals, with a few dozen getting picked up by walk-up diners.
“It went really well and we didn’t run into any issues,” he said.