Hermiston community meal has just enough turkey for Thanksgiving dinner

<p>Tony Hensley of Cove, Zachary Irons of Boardman and Ray Hensley of Cove work on the serving line making to-go meals Thursday during the Thanksgiving Day Community Dinner in Hermiston.</p>

For the first time in her 23 years coordinating Hermiston’s community Thanksgiving dinner, Laurie Ball-Kiser was afraid the unthinkable could happen: She might run out of turkey.

“This is crazy,” she said as a volunteer let her know halfway through the three hour meal that they were running out of pie, too.

“Crazy,” she repeated, shaking her head.

Ball-Kiser said she couldn’t account for what caused the huge increase in attendees this year.

The free meal at the senior center normally draws about 650 people, she said, but her preliminary guess was that this year’s reached close to 800 even though snow-free roads usually encourage people to travel to see family instead.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do if someone calls for a meal and we’re out of turkey,” she said.

In the end, though, the story had a happy ending: Somehow, whether through rationing out smaller portions or a Biblical loaves-and-fishes-style miracle, everyone who came through for a free Thanksgiving meal was able to have some turkey along with all the other traditional foods.

“We made it,” Ball-Kiser said, grinning, as volunteers began dismantling tables at 2 p.m.

The community meal is a big undertaking.

Between the 30 large turkeys, 60 pies, potatoes, stuffing, vegetables and fruit salad, Ball-Kiser had hundreds of pounds of food to coordinate.

She also had to keep track of about 300 volunteers, some of who have been volunteering for years and others were starting a new tradition.

“We got a lot of first-timers this time,” she said. “We couldn’t do it without the first-timers.”

She said she’ll have to think hard about the upcoming free Christmas Day meal because one thing she knows is “we’re never going to be caught like this again.” She said she already decided that she is going to stick to ham instead of doing ham and turkey, and she will have to forgo deliveries of meals to outlying towns like Echo and Irrigon.

However, she said people from those communities are still welcome to come to town for a free Christmas dinner at the Hermiston Senior Center.

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