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Much more than a free meal

Sat., Nov. 17, 2007

This year’s Thanksgiving feast will be much like last year for Margie and Bill Chapman, as they gather around the table with the extended family – all 500 of them. At least that’s the expected turnout as the Chapmans join a community of others at the annual Thanksgiving Day meal, hosted by Coeur d’Alene’s Center for Spiritual Living, at the Lake City Senior Center.

“We were just with each other last year and we wanted to be with people,” explained Margie Chapman, who added that she comes from a large Southern family that had large family dinners. But after attending the Thanksgiving dinner last year, things changed for the Chapmans. “This is my family here,” she said.

Started by Michael and Vickie Hillicoss 10 years ago, the turkey-day gathering has grown from 40 volunteers serving 60 guests in a smaller venue at the first feast; to last year’s grand spread that dished up 28 turkeys and two 40-pound hams to more than 500 visitors. Though the meal is targeted for the homeless, elderly, homebound, disabled and anyone who might be alone on Thanksgiving Day, everyone is welcome, said Michael Hillicoss.

“We like to open it up to as many people as possible,” he said, adding that the banquet started out as a modest undertaking. Nevertheless, in that decade, Michael Hillicoss said, “It’s taken on a life of its own.”

Back in 1997, the Newman Lake family was looking for a local place that needed volunteers to serve, as they wanted to both help the needy and to press upon their young daughters the importance of helping others. However, they discovered that most places were flush with all the help they needed prior to Thanksgiving Day, while there wasn’t anywhere actually open to the public on the holiday. “It was the perfect opportunity to start our own,” Michael Hillicoss said.

What the Hillicoss family started, and the Center for Spiritual Living has carried on since 1998, has become something more than a free meal. “It’s not your typical soup kitchen,” he said.

Featuring hosts, an army of volunteers, live music by the church’s “State of Change” band, waiters and waitresses, the guests the organizers hope to bring in are like “a family,” Michael Hillicoss said.

The event is a true community endeavor, with all the food donated by the community at large: Nearly 50 loaves of bread are collected from Great Harvest Bread Co., in Coeur d’Alene; butter and milk come from Darigold in Spokane; and turkey, ham and the rest are collected from North Idahoans and other businesses. The Center for Spiritual Living also works with the Meals on Wheels program to deliver hot Thanksgiving Day meals to about 50 homebound people.

“You leave there and your belly’s full, you have a warm heart – you just feel good,” said Bill Chapman. “It’s a good positive atmosphere.”

For those involved, whether as a volunteer or guest, the feast brings a holiday cheer that is almost without equal, said Patsy Cameron, music director with the church who’s also performed at the event in “State of Change.” “I think it’s a wonderful service to the community… It’s wonderful that people have someplace to go and feel like family,” she said. “And ever since I started doing it, I don’t want to do anything else. Once you’re there, it’s like this is what it’s all about.”


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