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Restaurant plans to serve 1,200 free holiday meals to needy

Thu., Nov. 17, 2011

Into how many pieces a pan of pumpkin dessert can be divided may not be a concern at an ordinary family Thanksgiving Dinner, but the Women’s and Children’s Free Restaurant is expecting to feed 1,200 people on Saturday – and volunteers want to make absolutely sure there’s dessert for everyone.

“I always talk to the servers about presentation,” Karen Orlando, volunteer coordinator at the restaurant, while taste testing and cutting dessert on Monday. “We want to make sure everyone gets a nice-size serving and that it looks good on the plate.”

The Women’s and Children’s Free Restaurant has hosted an annual Thanksgiving dinner for more than 20 years. As the need for a free meal has grown, so has the number of dinner guests. Last year, in an effort to accommodate everyone, 200 dinners were served at Rogers High School and the remaining 700 were served at the restaurant’s location in the basement of Christ Our Hope Open Bible Church on North Monroe Street.

This year, all of the dinners will be served at Rogers High School and school buses will run between the restaurant and the high school to make sure no one gets left behind.

At least 1,200 people are expected to show for a meal of salad, smoked turkey with all the trimmings and pumpkin dessert.

“We prepare as much of the food here as we can,” said Su Sawyer, volunteer and co-chair of this year’s Thanksgiving dinner. “And then we show up really early on Saturday morning to get everything organized.” Today, local chefs come to the Women’s and Children’s Free Restaurant to carve the 150 smoked 16-pound turkeys donated by Egger’s Better Meats and Seafood.

Spokane Public Schools is donating the space at Rogers, as well as the use of the professional kitchen there and some staff volunteers.

“The kitchen is beautiful and it’s so nice to have someone there who’s used to the kitchen, if we need help,” said Sawyer.

Pawn One is the main underwriter of the event, but more than a dozen local businesses and organizations are donating food and services to make the dinner possible.

Darigold is donating a refrigerated truck to transport and keep food fresh.

Dunham School Services is providing free buses with volunteer drivers and Spokane Valley Meals on Wheels is making the pumpkin dessert for everyone.

“It’s a team effort, it has to be a team effort or we can’t pull it off,” said Orlando.

A staff of 156 volunteers will be ready to help and serve everyone at Rogers.

“On Saturday morning I’ll have everyone busy with a can opener,” said Sawyer. “Just think of all the cans we have to open: cranberries, beans and everything.”

Dinner begins at 4 p.m. and the last guest leaves the table around 7 p.m.

But that doesn’t mean the day is over.

Back at The Women’s and Children’s Free Restaurant, and working well into the night, yet another shift of volunteers is waiting to sort through, pack and properly conserve any leftovers that may be reused in other meals. On Monday, partner nonprofits and charities will receive the leftovers and put them to good use in other meals.

“What does it feel like when the last guest leaves? I don’t know,” said Orlando. “I guess it’s a mix of exhaustion and excitement that we made it and we made a lot of people happy.”

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