As sunny summer days turn brisk and breezy, and the tree leaves begin to change color from green to yellow, then orange and brown, our thoughts naturally wander to pumpkin carving and shopping for new wool sweaters. Autumn in the Pacific Northwest can be stunning, full of blue sky and colorful foliage, but not everyone welcomes the change. For some people, it means they will struggle to find a warm place to sleep and have to face the despair of being alone while other people celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends. Fortunately, there are a handful of people with big hearts and generous spirits willing to step-up and help-out.
Thankful Hearts is a local non-profit made up of volunteers, and three family groups, that have come together since 2010 to provide a free Thanksgiving meal to anyone in need in Clatsop County. Friends and volunteers that share a love of community, and a desire to make a difference, work tirelessly together to whip up a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, complete with turkey, candied yams, stuffing, and pies to up to 300 hungry people.
The three families, whose grassroots efforts have blessed thousands of locals, includes Dianne and Carl Burkhart, Kelly Clark, and Lisa and Vern Lamping. These angels are now looking to pass the baton on to a new generation of volunteers and organizers. The process is already in place with shopping lists, table servers, menus, and decorations, and many volunteers ready to help.
On Thanksgiving Day they gather at about 8:00 a.m. and begin to cook the yams, turkey, and other menu items. People and local businesses bring or donate, desserts. Costco steps-up to provide decadent pies every year. From 10:00 to 11:00 Thankful Hearts delivers food to Meals on Wheels. At 11: 15 the group sits down together to share a meal, and by noon they open the doors and serve until 3:00.
Dinner guests range from single mothers with their wide-eyed children, to lonely senior citizens, the homeless, and families experiencing unemployment and other tough circumstances. These people would have had to miss out on such deliciousness if it weren’t for the generous efforts of Thankful Hearts and other members of the community.
Every year over 30 volunteers collaborate to source, collect, prepare, cook, and present a delicious free meal to eager diners in Warrenton at the Community Center. It’s a lot of work, but thanks to the donations of many local businesses who contribute ingredients, desserts, décor, and labor, the meal is a huge success. Just look around at the many tables and witness firsthand the smiling faces and lively conversation and you’ll understand the importance of the event. You might even shed a few tears when you realize just how blessed you are to have a regular warm meal and safe place to sleep.
Thankful Hearts is now looking for new volunteers to step in and take over this crucial service to our community. Circumstances change, and now there is a call for new people to take the reins of generosity and see for themselves how good it feels to help others. It doesn’t matter if you are an experienced volunteer or have never contributed even a moment of your time, all that is needed is a desire to help and a commitment to see it through.
According to an article by “The Daily Astorian” from a year ago, “Clatsop County is among the top five counties in the state for homelessness, with about 680 homeless people in a population of around 38,600. However, many experts in Clatsop County that regularly assist the homeless believe that they have a much larger problem with over 1,000 people homeless at any given time. It is only the denser, larger populated counties of Multnomah, Marion, Deschutes, and Lane that have a more significant homeless population.
Of course, it’s not only the homeless that benefit from a free Thanksgiving meal. In today’s economy, it’s sometimes difficult to make ends meet. Clatsop Community Action, a non-profit organization that helps provide food, housing, and emergency energy assistance, says that “More than 25% of the residents of Clatsop County qualify for emergency food assistance.” It’s obvious that a no-cost Thanksgiving meal is needed and appreciated.
Many of the people that return annually to partake of the free Thanksgiving meal would be saddened to have to go without it. They look forward to the mouth-watering taste of carved turkey covered in sage and homemade gravy, the tangy sweetness of locally grown cranberries made into a perfect sauce to compliment the turkey meat, and the melt-in-your-mouth sensation of fresh pumpkin pie. They eagerly anticipate a warm, friendly room where they feel welcome and comfortable, if only for a short time. Inspiration can happen anywhere, and sometimes a small act of kindness can be a catalyst for significant change. New leadership is needed to make this happen. Can you help? Contact Dianne Burkhart at 503-861-1355 or Lisa Lamping at 503-338-0818 if interested.