Impressive.

After just a couple of weeks in town, plenty of things here have turned my head. A bustling business community, incredible agricultural resources and thriving schools make Hermiston and the surrounding area a special place indeed.

But along with all those great things, take this from someone who’s still an outsider in most ways: You all are some special folks when it comes to your attitude toward charitable giving.

Everywhere you turn in Umatilla County, there are people willing to lend a hand.

The Christmas Express in Hermiston is amazing. The schools collected more than 12 tons of food; and an additional 500 turkeys, 1,032 lbs of stuffing and hundreds of boxes of dry good staples will be distributed to those who can use them, along with thousands of toys.

All told, the Hermiston Police Department’s program will help 500 families this year.

Those are good numbers for a city of any size — and for a community the size of Hermiston, they are astounding numbers. Every person who donated a can of food, bought a toy or tossed in a couple of bucks can be proud. It seems as if everyone — from farmers to businessmen and businesswomen to service groups to legions of volunteers — pitches in to help.

Neither does it stop in Hermiston. There are toy drives (who doesn’t love Santa Claus on a Harley?) from Echo to the Two Rivers Correctional Institution. The Umatilla fire and police departments have a great Christmas basket program in their community, and they enlist the help of the school kids there. Stanfield also conducts a food drive to assist its community members, and Echo does the same.

Help is everywhere — and it’s not just a holiday affair. Agape House is a year-round miracle. Habitat for Humanity is active in the area, Campus Life does good work, faith-based organizations are busy ... and the list goes on and on.

No doubt, this is the season when we count our blessings. It’s the time of year when we enjoy the bounty of friends and family. We give and receive gifts, exchange wishes for a prosperous new year and revel in holiday cheer.

Certainly, many of us in our community have reason to be joyful.

But to me, the greatest trademark of a community is good folks doing good things — and that trademark is stamped very clearly on this community.

That’s more than holiday spirit.

That’s the spirit of a great place.

Restaurant reviews aren’t my thing, but when I find a good one, I’m going to give a shout out. Thumbs up this week for Our Place, a great little coffee shop at 164 E. Main in Hermiston. Tasty sandwiches on artisan bread, amazing soups, terrific coffee, pastries to die for, free Wi-Fi and comfy chairs. Oh, and really nice folks (Del Loney, Linda Phillips, and Ryan and Amanda Woodlee ) running the place. They even support local artists with displays around the shop. Definitely worth a stop when you are in the neighborhood.

If you’re looking for some good hoops, make sure catch the Hermiston High girls, who play at home next Tuesday at 4:15 p.m. They were still unbeaten headed into weekend play, they’re ranked fifth in the state and they play some great team basketball.

The Bulldogs aren’t a team with one or two stars and the rest of the players in small supporting roles. Steve Hoffert’s team is a well-coached, well-oiled machine that knows how to move the ball up and down the floor, and it seems as if someone different leads the team in scoring every night. They’re good, they’re fun to watch and best of all, the price of admission is well within reach of most of our pocketbooks.

Speaking of ticket prices, I see the Hermiston Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring a Chamber Night at a Blazers game in Portland on Jan. 11 (vs. the Knicks). You’ll pay a little more than you’ll pay to watch the HHS Bulldogs, however. Prices range from $40 (you can see the court) to $104 (a close-up view).

Umm ... a hundred bucks for a basketball game?

Not saying it’s not worth the price, but there had better be some real special popcorn for me to pony up $104, and Brandon Roy ought to deliver it to my seat.

But then, that’s just me.

Heard a very informative presentation from Diana Hall of the Oregon Employment Department at Wednesday’s Hermiston Kiwanis Club luncheon. Hall outlined the tremendous number of resources available to both employers and people looking for a job, and she noted that there are usually 120 to 130 jobs available in the area at any one time.

The office will help employers find a match for an opening, and help potential employees find an employer that matches their skills. The folks there also have computers and other necessaries available for those in the job hunt process, and they offer free classes on everything from computer skills (Microsoft Excel, for example) to basic math and typing to stress management.

You don’t have to be unemployed, by the way, to take advantage of any of the classes. If you’d simply like to improve your skill set, you can attend.

For more information, call 541-567-3381, or drop by the Hermiston office at 950 SE Columbia Dr., Suite B.

My take? It’s your tax dollars at work. Take advantage if you need it.

There’s still time to vote in the Hermiston Chamber’s Lights Before Christmas Tour contest. If you don’t have time to tour the town and see the decorated houses, you can go to www.hermistonchamber.com to see pictures and cast your vote. I’ve got my favorite, but I won’t lobby here. Deadline for voting is Monday.

Heads-up nod this week to Eastern Oregon University president Bob Davies. The Oregonian reported that the La Grande school, which was on the brink of collapse three years ago, enrolled a record 4,137 students this fall. Davies said the key to the rebound has been an increased focus on attracting rural students. EOU still charges the lowest tuition and fees — $6,639 a year for a full-time undergraduate student — in the state system, and out-of-state students pay the same.

It’s nice to have that kind of institution in our neck of the woods.

 Know of something we need to be reporting? A piece of news you’d like to see in the Herald? Drop me a note at nwoelk@hermistonherald.com or call me at 541-564-4533.

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