Carl Perron hustled around the kitchen at Mid-City Concerns on Thanksgiving morning. He inventoried trays of turkey, checked the green bean casserole’s progress and kept Meals on Wheels dinners moving out the door.
A few minutes later, he made an announcement to the first wave of seniors who’d gathered for a traditional holiday meal at the downtown senior center.
“Hey, guys, thanks for showing up,” said Perron, a fast-moving, wiry man in a red apron. “We’re waiting on the gravy … and then we’ll be ready to eat.”
Perron is the point man for the annual Thanksgiving dinner that serves 800 seniors, shut-ins and drop-ins. There are no shortcuts for this dinner. It features real mashed potatoes, hand-carved turkeys, packets of real butter and homemade pies.
“We don’t skimp on the calories,” Perron said. “We didn’t want this to be like a soup line – we want it to be like a real homemade meal.”
For the past 11 years, he’s organized the dinner. He got involved when his former wife worked at Mid-City Concerns, and he learned that Meals on Wheels planned to give out frozen dinners on Thanksgiving.
Perron stepped in with a volunteer crew. The first year, they served 60 dinners. Now, the effort has grown so large that the planning starts in August.
The dinner requires 100 volunteers, who roast 50 turkeys, mash 400 pounds of potatoes and bake 100 pies.
Volunteers started arriving last night to roast the birds. In the early hours of Thanksgiving morning, three generations of one family came to peel the potatoes.
“They came, they peeled, and they left,” quipped Jerry Tanner, who was busy carving turkeys at 11 a.m. while his wife loaded white and dark meat into aluminum trays.
This is the second year that the Spokane couple has volunteered at Mid-City Concerns. Laura Tanner said that instead of sitting around watching parades and football games on TV, she and her husband wanted to do something meaningful with their holiday.
Sandy Fryer and Kathy Miller said they appreciated the chance to hang out with friends on Thanksgiving and eat a homestyle dinner. The two women are senior center members who come regularly for meals.
“It’s the food, the dessert and the company,” said Fryer, describing her favorite part of the holiday.
North Spokane residents Doug and Linda Birkle also came to the dinner, and brought a neighbor along as well. The couple’s children and grandchildren live in Western Washington, so they weren’t able to be together for Thanksgiving.
“This is a great place,” said Doug Birkle. “I can’t say enough good things about it.”
The senior center has a close-knit, friendly ambience that Perron enjoys. After 11 Thanksgivings, he recognizes many of the seniors who come each year.
“My mom and dad have passed away, so this has turned into my family. It really has,” Perron said.
In the late afternoon, the dinner attracts drop-ins and homeless residents. Some volunteers brought coats, caps and other warm clothes to give away.
Volunteer Jim Jemison said he likes knowing that when people leave the center, a small part of their material needs have been met.
“It’s just the thought of giving,” said Jemison, who lives in Rathdrum. “It’s a thrill to come out and feed them.”