Whidbey’s Helping Hands: Volunteer army provides Thanksgiving feast in Oak Harbor

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Turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, green beans, salad and pies galore topped with whipped cream.

That’s a pretty typical Thanksgiving Day meal for any family, but it’s especially tasty when it’s served up by the army of volunteers who put on the annual North Whidbey Community Harvest dinner in Oak Harbor, set to take place Thursday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Elks Lodge.

Now in its 14th year, the Community Harvest serves more than 3,000 meals to anyone in the Oak Harbor area who chooses to attend. None of it could happen without a dedicated group of volunteers who will begin planning next year’s event the day after this year’s event is complete.

Community Harvest 1“We have a core leadership team of about 15 people, including the four members of our executive board, who lead and coordinate about 300 volunteers each year,” said TJ Harmon-Fisher, a member of the leadership team. “They come from all walks of life, from youth and church groups to the Oak Harbor firefighters who help clean up each year. Some families have been volunteering for several years, and it’s been great fun watching their children grow from little pie servers to young adult escorts.”

When planning to have 3,000 people to dinner, you’re talking a lot of turkey. Harmon-Fisher said the team will cook about 160 turkeys and 80 hams this year. Turkeys are both fried and smoked and are always delicious. Tables are set with linen tablecloths, china and silverware and meals are eaten family-style, which is a great way to make new friends.

Cost to put on a meal of this magnitude is approximately $18,000. While donations are accepted at the annual meal, no one is turned away. Everyone is welcome.

The first Community Harvest, held in 2001, was the brain child of Keith Barlett, who owned the Pot Belly Deli restaurant for several years in Oak Harbor. He wanted to do something to thank the community for its support and pulled a group of like-minded people together to create the Thanksgiving Day meal. Barlett, unfortunately, passed away in 2004, but his vision has lived on, thanks to that core group of volunteers who started the event with him.

Courtesy of North Whidbey Community Harvest

Courtesy of North Whidbey Community Harvest

“We are so fortunate to live on North Whidbey, where so many residents and businesses support our Thanksgiving Day dinner with donations of labor, food, flowers, and cash,” said Harmon-Fisher. “Island life seems to create a stronger sense of community, with folks recognizing the importance of supporting each other during the tough times, and sharing our bounty during the good times.”

Harmon-Fisher, who has been involved with the event since the beginning, said the rewards for participating each year are twofold.

“Each year we meet new friends, who share the joy we receive in knowing that on each Thanksgiving Day we are making a difference in our community,” she said. “No one has to be alone, no one has to be hungry, and everyone knows that there are people in the world who truly care.”

Anyone in the Oak Harbor area interested in volunteering or requesting a meal delivery to their home or workplace can call 360-240-0175 and leave their name, number and a brief message. A volunteer will return the call as soon as possible. For further information, please click here.

For those south of Oak Harbor, the annual Community Thanksgiving potluck will be held at the Coupeville Rec Hall from noon to 2:30 p.m. The event is free and open to everyone – just bring a side dish or dessert to share.

 

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