PORT TOWNSEND — More than 100 people lined up for a free Thanksgiving Eve meal, as the St. Paul’s Episcopal Church opened its doors to the community for the 10th year in a row.
The 10th anniversary of the Thanksgiving meal replaced the regular Just Soup meal that the church offers every Wednesday. Those who attended feasted on turkey, stuffing, corn and other Thanksgiving staples.
The Just Soup free meals are organized through the cooperation of three volunteers after founding organizer Linda McKenzie stepped back five years ago, volunteer Elizabeth Bindschadler said.
Bindschadler has led the organization of the Thanksgiving meal for five years.
“It took three people to replace [McKenzie],” Bindschadler said. “She was quite the powerhouse.”
About 150 people were served between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the parish hall of the church at 1020 Jefferson St.
This year the dinner was easier on volunteers than last year, because in 2018, the team lost power and had to scramble. However 200 people still attended that year, said the Rev. Dianne Andrews of St. Paul’s.
The church has a budget set specifically for the Just Soup meals, and receives donations from the attendees and community supporters to help fund the long-running free lunches, which in 2018 drew an average of about 80 people attending, Andrews said.
Andrews appreciates the volunteers as well as those they serve.
“People are so grateful and generous of their time,” Andrews said. “It’s such a joyous occasion. Some people only come for Thanksgiving dinner.”
The sense of community was at the heart of the meal, according to the organizers and several attendees.
Susan Ambrosius enjoys the annual dinner because of “the community with people I don’t know or barely know and seeing them on the inside,” she said.
“Understanding more about our neighbors in Port Townsend — some of these people are from the shelter … and I’m so glad they come to Just Soup and here. I’m glad to see it.”
The Thanksgiving Eve meal is put on through the efforts of about 25 volunteers, many of whom help out during regular Just Soup meals, which need an average of six volunteers per meal, Bindschadler said.
The volunteers were split into two teams, one working the dining hall serving food, busing tables, arranging the dessert table, and anything else needed, while the other team cooked, cleaned up and washed dishes in the kitchen, Bindschadler said.
Behind the scenes, other volunteers will take the tablecloths and napkins home to be washed, Bindschadler said.
“It’s a real community effort. Not everyone who helps is part of the church,” Bindschadler said. “We have volunteers who came with friends who were members and started helping out.”
“My favorite part is we [provide the meal] on Wednesday. There are organizations who do it on Thursday, so people can have two Thanksgiving dinners.
“It’s fun to smell the smells, see the smiles and get to feed people.”
Friends Barbara Morey and Suzanne Rodgers regularly attend the Just Soup meals. This was the first Thanksgiving meal that Morey had attended.
“There are people from all walks of life and everyone feels comfortable … no one is a stranger,” Rodgers said. “I don’t make the big turkey dinner anymore … I’m too old for that … this is great for that.
“You can hardly look around the room and see someone you don’t know.”
Morey appreciates the kindness that is found at the meals.
“They are genuinely friendly” Morey said. “The volunteers genuinely care about everyone. If someone who shows up regularly stop coming for awhile, the volunteers check in with them.
“If we can do more like this in the community, it can solve some of our problems by connecting people.”
Just Soup is always looking for more volunteers, and Bindschadler recommends people interested in helping call the church’s main line at 360-385-0770.
Another Thanksgiving Eve dinner was offered at the Brinnon Community Center at 306144 U.S. Highway 101.
Today, a free community Thanksgiving Dinner will be served from noon to 3 p.m. at the Tri-Area Community Center, 10 West Valley Road, in Chimacum.
Homebound residents may call 360-605-0300 to put their name on the home delivery list.
Volunteers can call 360-605-0300 or email [email protected].
Jefferson County reporter Zach Jablonski can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 5, or at [email protected].