In its 30th year, the Hermiston Community Fellowship Dinner was busier than ever. By 10:15, the Hermiston High School commons had already started to fill up for the 11 a.m. meal. Volunteers buzzed around, helping diners to their seats, writing name tags, and packing to-go boxes to take to housebound people.
The Archer family packed styrofoam boxes into the back of their vehicle, and headed to West Hermiston. They were dropping off Thanksgiving meals, and the four of them — parents Adam and Rachel, and daughters Jules and Riley — knew the drill by now.
“This is our third year,” Adam said. “We get a variety of people, from the elderly to just people that can’t afford a meal.”
The Archers were part of a 100-plus group of volunteers assisting at the twice-yearly community meal, which for the first time was held at the high school, after several years at the Hermiston Senior Center.
Organizer Gary Humphreys said they wouldn’t know until the end of the meal, but they were planning to feed 900.
In addition to serving at the high school, drivers took meals to housebound people, and drove people to the meal. Organizers said they deliver meals as far west as Irrigon and south to Echo.
Dozens of others greeted guests, brought food and beverages to people, and toiled in the kitchen.
By noon, the tables were full of people enjoying the meal, with another wave on the way.
The dinner is something of a tradition for many people, both volunteers and visitors.
“I wanted to volunteer,” Adam said. “I never got to do this as a kid, so this is my way of giving back to the community.”
As they delivered meals and gave rides to people who couldn’t drive to dinner, Adam and Rachel explained to their daughters what they were doing.
“Why do we need to pick someone up?” One of the girls asked.
“Because it’s a nice thing to do,” Adam said. “And, because she might not have a car to get there herself.”
The girls were eager to help their parents, carrying bags full of meals up to the door and helping unload the boxes. At each home, the family introduced themselves, asked the name of the person they met, and wished them a happy Thanksgiving.
Some people receiving deliveries are alone, or waiting for families to arrive. “We’ve been instructed, if they want to invite us into the house, we can go in and give them company for a few minutes,” Adam said. He recalled a home they went to their first year of volunteering.
“The home wasn’t fit to live in,” he said. “But the lady invited us in — all she wanted to do was talk.”
Sometimes, they had unexpected orders come in. At one delivery, a man in a neighboring apartment saw them and asked if they had any food left.
“No, but they’re serving dinner at the high school. We can place an order for you,” Rachel said.
Twenty minutes later, they were back with hot meals for the man.
The Archers’ final assignment for the day was driving a woman, Mary Getchel, to the meal. Jules, the Archers’ eight year-old daughter, chatted cheerfully with Getchel, who shared a little about herself.
“I’ve lived here for 15 years,” she said. “I like the dinner.”
Joe Kiser, who helped start the Community Fellowship Dinners in the late 1980s, said he was pleased to see how it’s expanded.
“The first meal had 11 people,” he said. “From there, it blossomed to about 30 people. And from there it just exploded, into the hundreds.”
Kiser’s wife, Laurie Ball-Kiser, coordinated the meal for several years. She passed away in June, but the event is still going strong.
“The goal was just to open up and help people during Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Kiser said. “Just do something for the community.”
For Adrea Powers and her six year-old son Kody, the dinner was the beginning of what they hope is a new tradition. After moving to Echo a month ago, Powers said she and her son were looking for something to do on Thanksgiving.
“I was trying to instill in him the true meaning of Thanksgiving,” she said. “To serve and participate and be a part of our new community.”
Powers said she didn’t register to volunteer, but showed up on Thursday and just asked if they could do anything to help.
“We don’t have family in the area, and don’t know a lot of people — it didn’t make sense for us to cook on our own,” she said.
But at the end of the meal, Powers and her son had made friends with their tablemates, longtime volunteers Larry Parvin and Marian Perdas.
“Everyone has been receptive — it’s been very nice to meet other people,” she said.