The coffee and conversation were flowing freely at Hermiston’s Community Fellowship Dinner on Christmas Day.
The holiday meal, which has been an annual tradition since the 1980s, is free and open to anyone, for any reason. The widespread invitation draws an eclectic crowd, from those who don’t want to spend Christmas alone to extended families enjoying the chance to skip doing dishes and cooking.
Frances Howard said she came by herself to the dinner in the Hermiston High School commons, but was able to meet “a lot” of people there.
“I’m living in a camper trailer and there’s no oven, so there’s no way for me to cook a turkey dinner,” she said.
Caleb Jacobs and his mother Cindy Clark, both of Hermiston, met up on Tuesday afternoon to enjoy their choice of ham or turkey dinner. Jacobs, who has been to the dinner the last six years, said he’s a movie buff and likes to entertain the servers and people sitting near him with movie trivia. Clark said sometimes she and her son get treated like “outcasts,” but not at the Community Fellowship Dinner.
“The people are friendly here,” she said.
Joetta Wallace, her mother Bonnie Phillips and her aunt Gloria Lampkin were all seated together as they laughed and talked over dinner. Wallace and Phillips were in town visiting Lampkin, who lives in Echo, and the three decided the community meal would be better than cooking.
“Any time someone else cooks it, it’s delicious,” Phillips said.
Wallace said she appreciated how hard the volunteers, who put the dinner together, must have worked behind the scenes.
Some of the people sitting at the tables were also volunteers who were enjoying the fruits of their labor after working a shift in the kitchen or out with the guests.
David Lawson had volunteered for the Thanksgiving meal for the first time in November, and liked it so much he came back and washed dishes at the Christmas meal. While he was grabbing a bite to eat with a friend sitting at one of the tables, he said he is retired and his grandchildren were at his ex-wife’s house this Christmas, so he liked being able to come and help out with the dinner.
“It gives me something to do,” he said.
Rachael Higgins was also enjoying a meal after volunteering. She said she used to attend the meal when she was a child, and came this year with her sister and her mother to help serve up food.
“I like that you get to talk to a lot of people while serving,” she said.
Some people at the high school on Tuesday were first-timers. Sharon McKim came with her father and her husband — who would usually cook Christmas dinner — to try out something new for the holiday this year. She said they heard about the dinner through a banner on Highway 395 and thought they would come and check it out instead of eating at home.
They said they approved of the atmosphere, the dinner choices and the service.
“It’s good food,” McKim said.
The Christmas dinner usually feeds 700-900 people, and on Tuesday afternoon the tables at the commons area remained mostly full as people were coming and going. Transportation or meal delivery was also available to those who needed it. The free community event was made possible by a long list of volunteers, donations and sponsorships, and after it was over, a clean-up party for decorations and chairs and tables was planned for Wednesday morning.