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April 17, 2021

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Filling plates for free Christmas meal in Vancouver ‘fulfilling’

Traditional event at WareHouse ’23 goes smoothly despite logistical changes due to pandemic

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5 Photos
Steve Helland, left, and Marty Forsmann, both of Vancouver, load mashed potatoes and stuffing into to-go containers on Friday at a Christmas meal distribution event at WareHouse '23.
Steve Helland, left, and Marty Forsmann, both of Vancouver, load mashed potatoes and stuffing into to-go containers on Friday at a Christmas meal distribution event at WareHouse '23. (Taylor Balkom for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Chilly weather and steady rain didn’t dampen the holiday spirit at Beaches Restaurant and Bar’s Christmas meal distribution event at WareHouse ’23 on Friday.

A mix of volunteers and Beaches employees spent hours Friday cooking and packing tins with holiday meal staples like turkey, ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, rolls and apple turnovers and handing them out to hungry people who walked or drove up to the business.

Two tables lined the sides of the WareHouse ’23 lobby where an assembly line of workers packed trays of food into heated carts that were then pushed to the pickup location or to the loading docks for delivery.

WareHouse ’23 hosted a similar event a month ago for Thanksgiving. Friday’s weather forced more people to use the drive-thru lane to pick up their meals than did so in November. At its morning peak, the drive-thru line stretched through the parking lot onto West Columbia Way and around the corner onto Columbia Street.

Melanie Loveland of Portland and Whitney Freese of Vancouver worked to get the correct number of meals, utensil packets and drinks from inside WareHouse ’23 to waiting cars and walk-up patrons. Loveland, who works at Beaches, said getting through the intense first rush felt good.

10 Photos
Doug Carr, center, of Battle Ground, and others load a vehicle that will deliver Christmas meals to a location in Vancouver on Friday at a Christmas meal distribution event at WareHouse '23.
Free Christmas meals Photo Gallery

“Fulfilling,” Freese added.

The event ran from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Rich Melnick, one of the organizers, said the event is usually run like a sit-down restaurant. That had to change thanks to the coronavirus pandemic and restrictions on indoor dining.

“We had volunteers waiting on tables and we had Santa Claus who would give out presents to the kids,” Melnick said. “But we can’t do that anymore. The attitude is the same, though.”

Melnick said they were prepared to serve 2,000 meals over the course of the day.

Much of that was through the delivery option — another change brought on by COVID-19. WareHouse ’23 owner Mark Matthias, who also owns Beaches, said they would deliver 1,250 meals, ranging anywhere from 20 to 150 meals per location.

The delivery cars varied from Beaches-branded vans to standard Subarus, all loaded by four or five volunteers yelling out the number of required meals for whichever destination they were headed. Once the car was full, it drove away and another immediately took its place.

Melnick said he was pretty sure they were delivering to people who would have normally come for dine-in service in a regular year, in addition to new people.

“But that doesn’t matter,” he added. “We’re still feeding people. It’s looking all different, but that’s just COVID.”

There still was an option for those who wanted to eat on-site. A large tent with socially distanced tables sat to the side of the drive-thru lane so people could stay and eat their meals if they wanted. Hot coffee and various garments like hats and gloves were also available to anyone who wanted them.

Melnick noted that some version of the event has been going on for years.

“I hope the day comes when people don’t need us,” he said. “Every year we keep saying that.”

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