Group organizes Christmas gathering in Oak Harbor

Melissa Riker, left, stands with Jason Tritt, Alyce Lane, Diana Hammond and Ryan Wallin at Flyers Restaurant and Brewery. The group makes up a committee that is preparing for Oak Harbor’s first Community Christmas event on Christmas Day. - Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times
Melissa Riker, left, stands with Jason Tritt, Alyce Lane, Diana Hammond and Ryan Wallin at Flyers Restaurant and Brewery. The group makes up a committee that is preparing for Oak Harbor’s first Community Christmas event on Christmas Day.
— image credit: Ron Newberry/Whidbey News-Times

The thought of someone spending Christmas Day alone tugged a little on Ryan Wallin’s heart strings.

As secretary of a group that tackled charitable causes, Wallin was struck with an idea after he was asked what services were offered during the holidays around Oak Harbor for those who needed it most.

After taking a quick mental inventory, Wallin realized most days were covered except for one big exception.

Christmas Day.

That discovery led to a brainstorm and a scramble to put on the first Community Christmas in Oak Harbor.

It will happen Christmas Day at the Odd Fellows Hall in Oak Harbor.

From 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., the community is invited inside the warm building for two free meals and companionship.

The hall will be decked out in holiday decor, including a Christmas tree, to try to give it a festive feel.

Flyers Restaurant and Brewery is the chief sponsor of the event that was put together in three weeks by a five-person committee.

Biscuits and gravy will be served in the morning, while homemade chili and cornbread will be offered for lunch.

Melissa Riker, one of the organizers, said she has no idea how many people to expect.

She said she was aware of the popularity of the North Whidbey Community Harvest. That event, in its 12th year, served 5,000 people free turkey and ham dinners on Thanksgiving Day.

“We’re really nervous about it,” Riker said. “When we first started the whole idea, we were not sure anybody was going to show up. Now the word’s gotten out and we’re one week away, and we thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we going to do if this explodes into something like that.’”

Riker and Wallin both said they can only hope that the Christmas Day event would someday grow into something as successful as the North Whidbey Community Harvest.

“We aren’t prepared for those numbers, but if this grew into something of that nature, it would be great,” Riker said.

The motivation was to give everyone in the community a place to go on Christmas Day.

Riker said that might be someone homeless, a sailor away from home or a senior with no family nearby.

Christmas music will be played. Beverages served will include hot chocolate, coffee and apple cider.

The hope is to bring people together for a community Christmas.

Hence, the name.

“I had no intent of playing off the Thanksgiving event,” said Wallin, owner of Ronsons Design & Construction. “It just had a good sound.”

The idea gained momentum after Wallin talked over the idea with Riker and Jason Tritt, owner of Flyers, last month. Once they were on board, planning was underway.

“The biggest hurdle was where on Earth were we going to do this at?” Riker said.

That’s where the Independent Order of Odd Fellows came in.

The nonprofit group is a branch of a worldwide association that aims to help those in need. Members of the Oak Harbor lodge saw an opportunity to assist a charitable cause in its own community and offered its hall on Barrington Drive rent-free to hold the event on Christmas Day.

Oak Harbor Odd Fellows Diana Hammond and Alyce Lane are part of the Community Christmas five-person planning committee.

“I think it’s awesome,” Hammond said of the event.

“It’s wonderful,” Lane said.

Hammond will be dressing up during the event as Mrs. Claus to help spread the holiday cheer.

In the short time since they started organizing, the group has received some support from Walmart, Donut Master and North Whidbey Help House and is seeking donations. Individuals or businesses that would like to help my contact Riker at 360-929-2489 or

The Odd Fellows Hall is located at 721 S.E. Barrington Drive. The thermostat will be turned up on Christmas Eve to warm up the mostly unused building and make it comfortable on Christmas Day.

The hope is for large numbers of people to attend.

There’s a nervous energy about how large that number might be for starters.

“As long as people’s needs are met, that’s all we care about,” Riker said.

The first Community Christmas will be held on Christmas Day from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Odd Fellows Hall on Barrington Drive in Oak Harbor. Two free meals will be served during the event, starting with biscuits and gravy in the morning, followed by homemade chili and cornbread at lunch. For more information, or to help with donations, call 360-929-2489.


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