Ashley Green sat at a round plastic table with her 7-year-old daughter, Jordiyn, inside Vancouver’s Living Hope Church enjoying some Thanksgiving meal staples — ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, the works — on Saturday morning.
The mother and daughter were a couple out of many people who showed up at the church for a free meal, a yearly event traditionally put on by Daddy D’s BBQ. The popular free meal looked different this year due to COVID-19 restrictions. The majority of people who showed up simply drove up to the front of the church where volunteers took their orders, which were placed into to-go boxes inside and brought back outside. The Thanksgiving drive-thru saw a steady flow of cars all morning and into the afternoon.
Inside, the capacity was limited to 75 people, whose temperatures were taken before they could enter. Despite the precautions, Green enjoyed food with her daughter while people hustled to make sure no one left hungry.
“This year has definitely had its ups and downs, but this is amazing. They still managed to get everything they needed. I love the people here,” Green said.
It’s the eighth year Donnie Vercher, owner of Daddy D’s BBQ, has put on the massive Thanksgiving feast for the community. It’s the second year Vercher has partnered with Living Hope Church.
Vancouver mayor Anne McEnerny-Ogle helped facilitate the partnership, according to Vercher. The event was outgrowing its original space, the lot behind Vercher’s restaurant inside a gas station at 7204 NE Fourth Plain Blvd.
Last year, about 1,800 meals were served, said Pastor Brian Norris with Living Hope.
“It’s been phenomenal working with Donnie. He’s such a great man. His heart’s in the right place — bringing the community together,” Norris said.
This year, the organizers were expecting about 3,000 guests at two locations. Promise Church Woodland at 101 Hillshire Drive also participated this year. Vercher said he previously had been working with the church on a separate project, but the pandemic halted those efforts. So, when the Thanksgiving meal was approaching, he reached out to them.
Vercher anticipated possibly 1,000 guests in Woodland and 2,000 in Vancouver. Around noon Saturday, he pointed to a stack of boxes at the back of a factory line of food stations inside Living Hope.
“Once all those boxes are gone, we’ve used all the food. They’ll definitely all be gone,” Vercher said.
Preparing all the food is a daunting task that takes nearly five days. As of Thursday evening, Vercher and others had smoked about 70 turkeys and the same amount of hams, a process that takes 14 hours and 10 hours for the meats, respectively. On Friday, volunteers gathered in Woodland to have a “cutting party,” where the cooked protein was chopped up for serving.
“It really takes an army of people to do this,” Vercher said.
The meals are largely the result of donations. Vercher also puts some of his own money into the event. Cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, Hawaiian sweet rolls, cookies and pie were also on the menu.
Vercher said a stranger’s act of goodwill 30 years ago in California drives him to continue to give back to the community. He was walking through a neighborhood in San Jose when a man stopped him and asked if he needed help. Vercher declined and told the man he was walking to another neighborhood, but the man persisted and Vercher admitted that he needed money to get back to his family in Lake Tahoe. The man bought him a bus ticket.
“He told me to do it for the next person, and that’s stuck with me. Beyond that, there’s a need in Vancouver, and this is our way of giving back. It puts a smile on everyone’s face. I love that,” Vercher said.
Green said she was once homeless but Living Hope helped her get out of that situation. She credited the church and others for providing services like the Thanksgiving meal for her success, and as she did so, a woman approached and handed over bags containing essentials like socks and gloves.
“These are for you. You’re kind of a big deal,” Tara Boehlke told Green’s daughter.
Boehlke is the founder and CEO of I AM KBD, a Clark County-based nonprofit that employs women in India to make the bags that can be bought in bulk for personal use or to hand out to those in need. Boehlke said the women overseas would be unemployed if it was not for a small textile factory whose owner puts the profits back into his community.
“Those women know true poverty. Our symbol (the scarlet ibis) represents that suffering is inevitable for a lot of people, but beauty can come from that. The work of these women helps people in need here,” Boehlke said.
Sitting at another table with two others, Patrick Burke enjoyed a traditional Thanksgiving plate, in a box. He said despite being homeless of eight years, he has clothing, is generally well-fed and has the use of a cellphone.
“Those things and this here is an indication that despite being poor we’re doing well thanks to these fine Christian people and their values,” Burke said.