By Janine Gates
Barb O’Neill’s Family and Friends succeeded in pulling off their 46th Annual Thanksgiving Dinner on Wednesday at United Churches of Olympia for those who wished for a warm environment, good food, and great company.
An estimated 26 to 30 turkeys with all the trimmings were served by 5:00 p.m. Desserts, bread items, children’s books, and clothing of all types were available as well. Some folks stayed all afternoon.
Kevin Harris, just one of many essential volunteers, has played a role with the traditional community meal for 26 years. As the dining room coordinator, he estimated that they served fewer meals than usual this year, but to get an accurate count, they will do a full count of plates served. Those who asked received additional, full Thanksgiving meals to go, and there were many requests.
This reporter was a grateful recipient of generous portions of turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans, garlic bread, cranberry sauce, pickles and refreshments. I passed on the black olives, but they were also offered.
This year, I handed out pre-wrapped egg salad sandwiches and later did a stint stationed on the assembly line, serving up the creamy mashed potatoes.
The community-wide invitation to share in the meal is available to anyone, because friendly companionship is just as important as food. I met several fascinating members of our local community. People chatted, a band played jazzy tunes and volunteers like Gracie Anderson, 16, were back to share in the camaraderie.
The Olympia High School student came late in the afternoon because there was a full day of school, and as a result, fewer teenagers were present to volunteer. She has had a busy year since I last saw her last Thanksgiving.
In Spring of last year, she, along with her mother and aunt who are both school mental health counselors in Chehalis, decided to do something for that community and the Chehalis School District.
As if being a fulltime student wasn’t enough, Anderson started an organization, Food for our Future, based on the successful model of Thurston County’s Homeless Backpacks. She is now in the process of applying for her organization’s non-profit status.
Starting with two elementary schools, Food for our Future is now in three Lewis County schools, providing 75 bags of food each week for students who might otherwise go hungry over the weekend when school is not in session. Bags of food are distributed on Fridays to students determined to be homeless through criteria based on the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Education Assistance Act.
The Act determines that children are deemed homeless if they are living on the streets, in a shelter, or couch-surfing. Families are able to opt-out of Anderson’s program if they so choose.
Anderson recently paired with Hannah Hart who sponsors “Have a Hart Day,” an international initiative to “organize and mobilize Hartosexuals & friendly humans to spread service and reckless optimism all over the world.” (Go to www.youtube.com/hartoand you might get hooked watching Hart's Newlyfriend Game with Daniel Radcliffe).
Anderson served as the city captain of Chehalis for three “Have a Hart Day,” events and received 30 volunteers to bag food. Usually, Anderson said, they have about 10 volunteers to bag food.
“Now we have enough bagged food for four weeks!” she said.
Anderson’s enthusiasm to help others is contagious. She shared many stories of individuals she has met who inspire her to continue her work to help others.
“I want everyone to have the same opportunities that I have had….For me, it’s about doing my best and doing everything I can because I’ve been so incredibly lucky,” said Anderson.
Barb O'Neill's Family and Friends keeps growing.
To contact Food for our Future, contact Gracie Anderson at Gracie.Anderson.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Homeless Backpacks is a local non-profit 501c3 corporation committed to ending homelessness by giving teens the help they need so they can focus on school, go on to graduate and become contributing citizens.
They provide food for the weekend to homeless teens in Thurston, Mason and Grays Harbor Counties. Begun in 2004, the group serves between 300-400 students per week in Thurston County. For more information, go to www.homelessbackpacks.org.
To read more about Gracie Anderson, or Barb O’Neill’s Family and Friends Thanksgiving Dinner, go to Little Hollywood at www.janineslittlehollywood.blogspot.comand type key words into the search button.