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Jan. 21, 2022

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Clark County volunteers deliver free Thanksgiving feast

Careful coordination key as free Thanksgiving meals are mostly to-go

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
6 Photos
Volunteer Vern Toedtli of Vancouver, at center, stirs the bean and corn station at the turkey dinner assembly line Thursday at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds. About 1,600 turkey dinners were prepared and delivered by Clark County volunteers to the needy this Thanksgiving.
Volunteer Vern Toedtli of Vancouver, at center, stirs the bean and corn station at the turkey dinner assembly line Thursday at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds. About 1,600 turkey dinners were prepared and delivered by Clark County volunteers to the needy this Thanksgiving. (James Rexroad for The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Think cooking Thanksgiving dinner for eight people, or even 10 or 12, is difficult? Try cooking dinner for 1,500. Once again this year, retired Judge Rich Melnick and Beaches restaurant owner Mark Matthias teamed up to bring together dozens of volunteers to help feed those in need.

Around 1,300 meals went out to group homes, organizations and other facilities on Thursday. Melnick said another 200-300, or even more, would be served to individuals coming into the former fire station on Evergreen Boulevard in downtown Vancouver.

“If we just serve one person who’s in need of a meal, we’ve accomplished what we wanted to,” Melnick said.

Although much of the cooking was done on Wednesday at either Beaches restaurant or the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, there was still plenty of work to do on Thursday. By 9 a.m., around 30 to 40 volunteers were at the fairgrounds to begin assembling and packaging the dinners for delivery. The meals included turkey and gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, sweet potatoes, bread and dessert and even a few vegetarian dinners were included.

Formed like an assembly line, volunteers manned their stations and cranked out meals quickly and efficiently. Meanwhile, other volunteers ran back and forth between the heated cabinets and the food line to refill empty trays. More than 100 meals could be served, packaged and readied for drivers in about 15 minutes. 

Among the volunteers were several Beaches restaurant employees, including Aly Novinger, who oversaw the Thursday morning operation. Novinger said they likely would end up serving 1,600 to 1,700 meals.

“We have an awesome group of volunteers that come help us,” said April Martinell, another Beaches employee who volunteers each year.

In past years, most of the diners would have come in for a sit-down meal. But the pandemic changed that. Now, most of the meals are delivered to facilities with groups of 20 or more. Those who do come in for a meal typically get dinners to-go or stand at one of the few socially distanced tables available.

It isn’t only the homeless or elderly in need of a hot meal. Melnick noted the people they serve come from all walks of life.

“They’re senior citizens, veterans, domestic violence survivors. Then you have people who are homeless, low-income, lonely or just down on their luck. It’s everything,” Melnick said. 

Those receiving the meals are extremely grateful for the food, but also the volunteers who donate their time.

“It’s fantastic, a real blessing,” said David Biasotti. Since coming to Vancouver from the San Francisco area, Biasotti said he’s seen many people in the area caring for the homeless.

“It puts the day in perspective,” said Pat Klinger, a Vancouver resident who has been volunteering for the last six years. “Whatever your problem is, there’s somebody that has a bigger problem.”

“There’s a lot of giving, a lot of volunteering … there’s a history of giving in this community,” he said.

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