Food, song and warmth at free Thanksgiving meal

A steady stream of people enjoy nourishment, hospitality at WareHouse ’23

By Dameon Pesanti, Columbian staff writer

Published:

 

David Allen Welsh was one of the many homeless people who came in off the streets for a free Thanksgiving Day meal at WareHouse ’23, but he quickly sat at one of the pianos and made it sing.

As Welsh played, his hands glided across the keyboard, tapping and brushing out different sounds into a long flowing tune that could easily have been mistaken for one of the classics.

“I don’t know who it is,” said Augie Savage, a professional musician who sat and listened to Welsh from an adjacent piano. “I think it might be Mozart.”

Savage regularly plays at the restaurant during dinner hours, and she agreed to do it for Thursday’s free Thanksgiving meal. But a few songs into her performance, Welsh peeled off a few layers of clothes, came up and asked if he could play.

She obliged, and when it became obvious that Welsh was enjoying himself, she slipped out and let him have the room.

Welsh, who wore a leather cowboy hat, a goatee and a long ponytail, said the song he played wasn’t Mozart, but his own.

“It’s ‘Aerial Aquatas,’ my version of ‘Amazing Grace,’ ” he said during a brief pause. “God gives gifts. This is the gift he gave me to share.”

Around him, a room full of people, lots of whom are homeless or struggling financially, sat before big plates of food or cups of warm coffee. Quiet conversation filled the room, but many people seemed to have one ear cocked to Welsh’s song.

The free Thanksgiving dinner was provided by Chuck Chronis of the former Chronis’ Restaurant, Washington state Court of Appeals Judge Rich Melnick and Mark Matthias, owner of Beaches Restaurant & Bar and WareHouse ’23.

The meal was delivered tableside by a host of servers running around the room. The menu included turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans and more.

“Everything you could want for an old-fashioned dinner,” Chronis said.

The Chronis family and Melnick began providing annual Thanksgiving meals back in 1982 to those who might not be able to have one otherwise. Following a brief hiatus in 2015, Melnick and Chronis started working with Matthias to keep the tradition alive.

“This is a function so fantastic, you’ve just got to fall in love with it,” Chronis said. “It’s an incredible thing to see this is going on still.”

Judge Melnick stood behind a row of chafers, filling plates with food. His 92-year-old father-in-law greeted people at the door and guided them to their tables.

“We want everybody to be treated like they’re in a restaurant. It’s special,” Melnick said.

In the meal’s peak year, Chronis and Melnick cooked 89 turkeys and delivered 1,700 dinners.

This year, they cooked about 30 turkeys and prepared enough meals to serve roughly 700 people, Melnick said. A steady stream of people poured in from the time they opened the doors at 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. A few of the volunteers theorized that was because the weather was warm and it wasn’t raining too hard.

“We’re selfish because it makes us feel so good,” Melnick said. “But look — people are smiling and they’re happy.”

At the back of the restaurant, a couple of men watched the Detroit Lions play the Minnesota Vikings. They hooted and cheered for certain plays.

At a table behind them, Justin Glass finished the last of his dinner while his table companion warmed his hands on a cup of coffee.

“It’s a good dinner,” Glass said. “I want seconds.”