Every year on Thanksgiving in homes across America, families and friends gather to enjoy fellowship and food. We eat and drink, swap stories, watch football, debate politics, remember loved ones who have passed and relish watching children grow up.
Of course, the Norman Rockwell stereotype is not universal. Some people find themselves alone on this day of thanks. Others are short of the means to cook a big meal. And so we pitch in. We buy groceries for Tom’s Turkey Drive. We donate cash to Second Harvest, Meals on Wheels, and other service providers.
Others, however, do much more than empty their wallets. They give their time. So for this Thanksgiving, The Spokesman-Review features staff reached out to a few local volunteers who do what they can to make everyone’s Thanksgiving a little brighter.
‘Go buy some turkeys’
It started three years ago, with a handful of general managers – and their spouses – from the Spokane area’s four Larry H. Miller dealerships: Honda, Hyundai, Toyota and Lexus.
Last year, more employees volunteered.
And, this year about 30 people from all four dealerships plan to participate in the Union Gospel Mission’s Thanksgiving dinner, serving plated turkey meals to families and other folks who might not otherwise have one. It’ll be the fourth time Bob McLean, general manager of the Lexus dealership, has spent his Thanksgiving eve this way.
His wife, too. And, this year, for the first time, one of his two daughters, a salesperson at the Toyota dealership across the street from where he works.
McLean, 57, of Otis Ochards, personally delivers a vehicle-load of turkeys on the Friday before the event. This year, he was expecting some 150 to 200 birds.
“It’s an actual sit-down dinner,” he said. “Meals are plated. It gives me a lot of respect for servers.”
He and other volunteers will be serving dinner, beverages and dessert as well as clearing dishware. They’ll arrive about a half hour before the meal starts and stay until everyone’s fed.
“It depends on how long they keep coming,” he said. “They never seem to turn anybody away.”
Larry H. Miller Charities has been underwriting the event, giving $5,000 a year, McLean said. The company has a longtime practice of donating to charitable and service organizations. Their late founder “had a saying,” McLean said. “ ‘Go out and do good in the world until there’s too much good in the world.’ ”
Customers and employees are invited to donate. This year, McLean said, “I had one customer give me $1,000 and say, ‘Go buy some turkeys.’ ”
He remains involved, he said, because of “the looks on the faces of all the families.
“We’ll see a couple of familiar faces,” he said. “The families are so appreciative. We get thanked over and over.”
His own family, he said, is “fortunate to not have to worry about where our next meal is coming from.
“It’s bitter cold out there some years, and they’re waiting in a long line to get in. Coming from there, you really got to count your blessings.”
The City-Wide Thanksgiving Dinner takes place at the Spokane Convention Center, 334 W. Spokane Falls Blvd., from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday. For more information about how to get involved or donate, visit www.uniongospelmission.org.
‘Helping the homeless’
Life gets busy for Angela Jones as Eastern Washington University’s chief of staff. But she deliberately finds time to coordinate a Thanksgiving Day meal at Restoration Church.
“I would never want anybody to feel lonely on the holiday and go without,” said Jones, 45.
Last year, that meant about four hours’ sleep the night before to cook multiple turkeys, before joining other volunteers by 9:30 a.m. on Thanksgiving to set up for the noon to 3 p.m. meal. They stay another hour or so to clean.
When the west Spokane church opened three years ago, a fledgling 10 members saw a neighborhood in need and a big homeless population nearby. “We decided they deserve a Thanksgiving, too,” Jones said. “It didn’t look like the community around us would be able to afford a turkey and different things like that.”
Although members were unsure about numbers for the first 2014 year, 70 guests showed up. Nearly as many came last year. After ending that day with excess food, they drove to find people needing a meal.
“When we saw a homeless person, we gave them a plate of food; they won’t necessarily come find us.”
The mother of two young adults and a 10-year-old, Jones planned to celebrate the holiday with family this weekend, so she’s available Thursday. “I’ve been so blessed,” she said. “Why not give back?”
Restoration Church’s free Thanksgiving Day meal will run noon to 3 p.m. Thursday at 2815 W. Sunset Blvd. For donations of food or money, contact the church at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A bountiful Harvest
Julie Chase went from being an employee at Second Harvest Food Bank to a dedicated volunteer. Following her retirement a year and a half ago, Chase has remained close with the nonprofit organization, volunteering regularly in various capacities.
“It’s phenomenal when people give,” Chase said, taking a break from a day of data entry at Second Harvest in the week leading up to Thanksgiving.
For the past four years, Chase has been on hand for Tom’s Turkey Drive, the annual event that provides thousands of free Thanksgiving dinners to area families in need. On the Tuesday before the holiday, Chase and other volunteers convene at the Spokane Arena, where more than 7,000 meals are typically handed out.
The process runs like clockwork, Chase says, but it’s hardly an impersonal experience.
“I dress up crazy like a turkey, and I help with the lines,” Chase said. “I talk to the people while they’re in line and try to make it more festive. … You flash a smile and you welcome them, and you get them upbeat a little bit.”
Chase and her husband, Dan, also have been volunteers at the annual Turkey Trot, a charitable event hosted by the Bloomsday Road Runners Club that brings hundreds of runners and walkers to Manito Park on Thanksgiving Day.
“My Thanksgiving is not complete without going to the Turkey Trot,” Chase said, noting that she collects money and food donations at the starting line.
Through all her volunteer efforts, Chase says she’s seen the best of the community: Even in times of hardship, Spokane is eager to give back, she says.
“Until you volunteer, you have no idea how the community comes together,” Chase said. “It’s been so heartwarming to me to be able to give to others. People need to give it a try.”
Donate to Tom’s Turkey Drive at www.2-harvest.org; meal distribution stations open at the Spokane Arena, 720 W. Mallon Ave. on Tuesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The annual Turkey Trot starts at 9 a.m. at the Manito Park duck pond, 1702 S. Grand Blvd., on Thursday. There are no registration fees, but food and cash donations will be accepted.
A little Joy goes a long way
Joy Painter aims to live by a motto she borrowed from Mother Teresa: “Do small things with great love.”
Her “small thing” is delivering meals to seniors and shut-ins twice a week – on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The 71-year-old retired teacher – she spent 40 years in first grade – has been volunteering with Greater Spokane County Meals on Wheels since reading in The Spokesman-Review about a “serious shortage” of volunteer drivers in fall 2006.
She doesn’t think she drove on Thanksgiving that year, but believes she’s been delivering on Thanksgiving every year after. This year her regular route takes her to six homes, but in the past it’s ranged from four to 12. On Thanksgiving, routes are combined, so she expects to serve about 10 people, dropping off turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, a roll and “some kind of dessert.” Delivery takes about an hour and a half.
“I know I can’t change the world, but I know I can help in small ways and when those opportunities come along I feel called to answer,” said Painter, who will spend Thanksgiving with a high school friend and her family after her deliveries are done.
She said she plans to do deliveries on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, too.
“I’m going to continue doing it as long as I can drive,” she said, adding, “We can always use volunteers, even if it’s on a substitute basis.
“It doesn’t take very long – an hour or hour and a half out of their day – and they will be greatly rewarded, not monetarily. It’s just the happiness and joy you feel inside when you’ve touched somebody else, when you’ve made a difference in their lives – even if it’s just a little.”
For more information about donating or volunteering, visit http://www.gscmealsonwheels.org/.
Steering help around town
For Paul and Sally Pidskalny, Thanksgiving is all about coordination.
They volunteer at the free Thanksgiving Day meal at Lake City Center where Paul Pidskalny, 65, organizes drivers to deliver turkey, pie and all the trimmings throughout the Coeur d’Alene area. His work sorting out deliveries starts about a month before the big day.
This year, meals will be delivered to more than 150 people, plus 500 to 600 will come to the community center for dinner. And the drivers don’t just drop off the food.
“We make sure that we go in and talk to them and sit down with them and have a little visit,” Sally Pidskalny said. If drivers see that anything is amiss – perhaps someone is sick or needs help with something – that gets reported back to the center for a follow up.
Getting the drivers packed up with hot meals and out the door usually takes about 45 minutes, Paul Pidskalny said. Then he stays at the center, ready to field calls from lost drivers.
“Because we’ve been doing it so long, it usually runs like a well-oiled machine,” he said.
The couple started volunteering for the holiday meal 19 years ago, through their church, the Church of Religious Science.
“We started out by just doing dishes and serving people and cooking,” Sally Pidskalny said. “Everybody from the church pitched in, now it’s become a community meal.”
When they head home, Paul Pidskalny brings about 10 meals home, because inevitably someone will be missed.
“My phone rings as soon as we get home at 1 or 2 o’clock and somebody’s missing a meal in Hayden or Post Falls or somewhere, so I’m usually running around trying to get them their meals while they’re still warm.”
The Community Thanksgiving Day Meal will be served from noon to 2 p.m. Thursday at Lake City Center, 1916 Lakewood Drive in Coeur d’Alene. To volunteer or donate to the meal, call (509) 226-3208 or email email@example.com.