PORT ANGELES — The preparation began long before volunteers arrived in the kitchen at 5:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Day.
And the effects will be felt long after 1,983 people had filtered out of the gym of Queen of Angels Catholic Church by 4 p.m. Thursday, 500 of them toting to-go boxes or plates containing a second — or third — Thanksgiving feast.
Founder and hostess Reath Ellefson began prepping for this day Nov. 25, 2016, on the heels of last year’s meal.
Started 10 years ago
Ellefson, who started the community dinner 10 years ago, spent the previous 364 days staking out 75 percent discount sales, penning donor letters, hosting sundry fundraisers and topping a 10-foot-by-20-foot storage unit with decor, winter clothing, toys and toiletries.
As a result, more than 300 people received free winter coats in two hours. The community gobbled up 47 turkeys, or 987 pounds of bird (and that’s a conservative estimate). Nearly 500 toys fell into grateful hands. And 60 faith, hope and love bags, hand-sewn bags brimming with toiletries and snacks, went primarily to homeless people.
“The [gift and clothing] rooms are just dwindled down,” Ellefson said.
Santa Claus, or 40-year Port Angeles resident Larry Hurd, gave a large candy cane and stuffed animal to every child, enlisting the help of two elves.
One of the elves, 11-year-old Luke Ruddell, also spent a few shifts in the clothing room, which held about 1,000 coats between infant to 3X sizes.
Of his motivation, Luke said, “I enjoy people getting nice, warm clothes, food and enjoying themselves.”
Lenette Kendrick, a volunteer who oversaw the clothing room, said she admired people’s honesty.
“People are so humble and grateful,” she said. “I love their honesty. You get to know some of the repeat people, and some are homeless. I’ll ask if they need a faith, hope, love bag this year, and they’ll say, ‘No, I’m OK this year.’ ”
Meanwhile in the gift room, volunteers pointed to the generosity of the room’s patrons.
Given the choice of a single gift, a mother chose one for her child rather than herself. Similarly, a young girl abandoned her chosen toy in lieu of a Harry Potter figurine for her brother, volunteer Diane Svec said.
Leftover items will be donated to Serenity House, saved for Clallam County Project Homeless Connect or reshelved in the storage unit for next year.
Ellefson started the meal a decade ago when doctors expected it to be her last Thanksgiving meal.
Asked about her motivation, Ellefson responded simply, “A lot of reasons, hon.”
“I grew up really poor, and I know what it feels like to not have Christmas or food on Thanksgiving,” Ellefson said. “I want people to feel like they’re somebody. All of these people — I want them to feel like friends in my own home.”
“This is how a dinner at her house looks like,” volunteer Stu Miller interjected.
“It comes from love,” said Ellefson, who won a 2015 Clallam County Community Service Award for organizing the community meal.
The meal serves all ages and classes, a feature that makes Ellefson especially proud.
She motioned to lawyers, doctors, veterans and homeless individuals, all seated around the gym.
“It warms my heart,” she said.
Other community meals on the North Olympic Peninsula were served in Sequim, Chimacum, Brinnon and Forks.
Reporter Sarah Sharp can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at [email protected].