Despite living with tragic and disappointing circumstances, Kyle Decker had a bright smile on his face as he enjoyed Christmas dinner.

He may be among the few in town who was excited to see the snow continually dump.

"The snow was kind of a blessing," Decker said.

Prior to the recent blizzard-like conditions, the 18-year-old was homeless - sleeping where he could find a bench or walking around Wal-Mart until the wee hours of the morning after police officers would rouse him from his sleep.

The enterprising entrepreneur shoveled enough sidewalks to pay for a motel room for a week.

Decker visited with Scott Giles on Thursday at the Hermiston Senior Center during the Community Fellowship Dinner.

The two recently met at the Open Table - a free meal program sponsored by area churches - and trudged through the holiday together.

On Christmas Eve, the two men first went to a Christmas Eve service at the Hermiston First Christian Church. As they walked down the street after the service, they noticed Bethlehem Lutheran Church was having a celebration of its own. Then as they headed home, Decker and Giles were side-tracked once again, when they headed up the steps for a service at the Hermiston United Methodist Church.

"We went church hopping," Giles said with a laugh.

Giles, who's 45, said he gains inspiration from the 18-year-old.

When Decker was 7 years old, he watched his stepfather shoot his mother to death. It was only happenstance that the gun didn't go off when it was pointed at Decker's head.

After his mother's death, Decker lived with his aunt for nine years before embarking on his own path. He dropped out of school to join the workforce. Everything was going smoothly, until the bottom fell out of the economy. Decker had left one fast food restaurant to begin working at another. That ill-fated move resulted in him being low man on the totem pole when employee cuts were made.

However, Decker is on the move - with plans to go to Portland on Monday for MIPS - million instructions per second - training with the Oregon National Guard.

Meanwhile, Giles and Decker enjoyed a traditional holiday meal with hundreds of others in the community.

"I think it really epitomizes the whole idea of Christmas," Giles said as he glanced around at the room full of people.

"Luckily there's places like this I can get a nice Christmas dinner," Decker added.

John Evans, who was seating people at the meal, was a first-time volunteer for the annual event.

Last year, he benefited from a meal delivery from the program.

Evans was sitting around with some friends, playing music without any meal plans, when someone delivered Christmas dinner to them. That kindness motivated Evans to volunteer this year.

Len and Tracy Hepworth also became first-time volunteers after reading about opportunities in the East Oregonian.

Laurie Ball-Kiser gives a stuffed animal to Nathaniel Palmer, 8, of Hermiston during the Community Fellowship Dinner on Thursday at the Hermiston Senior Center.Photo by By E.J. Harris

"We thought since there was such a bad snowstorm - we have a four-wheel drive," Len said

"When we read they needed delivery drivers, we thought it might be something fun to do," Tracy finished her husband's sentence.

One of their first stops was at the home of Charles Reiber and Vernon Lyons.

"I think that's wonderful," Lyons said as his nephew took the bag of meals from Tracy Hepworth.

Lyons' wife, Clara, who died in June, was a long-time volunteer for the Community Fellowship Dinner.

As Len drove down the street to Vivian Williamson's home, he spotted Mabel Bischke shoveling snow in her driveway. As Tracy delivered the meal to Williamson, Len took over the shoveling duties for Bischke.

Laurie Ball-Kiser, coordinator of the event, said she received more calls from first-time volunteers - which she said were desperately needed.

As she looked out at the sea of people, Ball-Kiser surmised more people took advantage of the free meal because of the economy and because weather prevented many from traveling.

"God really does take care of it all," she said.

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