HERMISTON — Each year, between 100 and 150 people volunteer at the Community Fellowship Dinner Thanksgiving meal. Some of them cook and some wait on tables, but Terri-Lynn and Robert Gardner have been hand-delivering Thanksgiving to the front doors of local residents for nearly a decade.
“Our family is scattered all over the place,” Terri-Lynn said. “So we have the day to ourselves. We get to visit people and maybe cheer them up. Without something like this, people could be forgotten on holidays.”
The Gardners estimate that each year, they deliver anywhere from 15 to 45 meals to people in Irrigon, Stanfield and everywhere in between the two towns.
The action starts just after 10:30 a.m. each Thanksgiving, when pairs of volunteers haul a first round of insulated delivery bags to their cars, brimming with slices of pies and mashed potatoes.
Each bag comes equipped with a half-sheet of paper explaining how many meals each household ordered, when and where.
“Moving in pairs is good,” Terri-Lynn said. “That way, one person can drive and the other person can run out and knock on doors.”
This Thanksgiving, Terri-Lynn is driving. And maybe that’s because, as a retired truck driver, Robert’s put in more than a million miles across the United States.
“Oh, I’ve been all over,” he said.
The pair met in Denver, Colorado, when Robert — originally from Kansas — would deliver equipment to the railroad company where Terri-Lynn worked at the time. Together, they moved back to Terri-Lynn’s hometown of Hermiston to care for her aging parents.
For years, Terri-Lynn was working at the Union Pacific Railroad in Hermiston, but due to recent layoffs, she retired unexpectedly early last month after more than 27 years in the industry.
“But you have to look at it in a positive light,” she said. “Now we have more time to do volunteering like this.”
Their goal is to bring food and a little celebratory spirit to people who might not be able to make it out of the house to attend the free Community Fellowship Dinner, which is held at Hermiston High School each Thanksgiving afternoon and open to everyone in the community. Sometimes, they’ll give rides to and from the high school for people hoping to get out of the house for the holiday.
The pair also volunteer to deliver meals on Christmas. One year, they remember delivering meals to a local motel. The woman who answered the door was grateful, and explained that the food was all her family had in the way of celebration that year.
“You don’t know what someone’s circumstance is. We’re so blessed, it’s nice to be able to bless others,” said Terri-Lynn. “Put a smile on someone’s face.”
They always seem to be smiling too.
Before heading back to the high school to load their car up for round two of deliveries, the pair swung by a residence on Hermiston’s west side.
Robert ran out to make the delivery. The woman inside used to volunteer at the Thanksgiving dinner and had two dogs — including a dachshund.
“That dog was a dog-and-a-half long,” he joked.
Back at the high school, tables in the main commons were filled with families chowing down, a flower bouquet at every table.
According to Makayla Humphreys, who was checking in volunteers, there were some last minute no-shows Thursday morning due to illness.
“Flu season is here,” she said. “But in the end, it always works out that we have enough people.”
The nonprofit didn’t have exact totals for how many people were served Thursday, but according to board chair Gary Humphreys, the Thanksgiving dinner fed over 700 people last year.