Thanksgiving dinner meets tough times

Volunteers at last year’s free Thanksgiving dinner serve the throng. Due to the poor economy, donations of time and money are slow coming in this year.  - K.C. Pohtilla/Whidbey News-Times
Volunteers at last year’s free Thanksgiving dinner serve the throng. Due to the poor economy, donations of time and money are slow coming in this year.
— image credit: K.C. Pohtilla/Whidbey News-Times

First, the good news: The eighth annual free North Whidbey Community Harvest Thanksgiving dinner will be served.

Now the bad news: So far, there aren’t enough volunteers to make sure it goes off as it usually does -- like clockwork; and there’s not enough money to assure all the dinner bills will be paid on time.

“We need volunteers, we need a lot of everything,” said K.C. Pohtilla, one of the core group of Oak Harbor residents who perform the miracle of feeding several thousand people for free every Thanksgiving. “We even need more money for turkeys.”

Pohtilla, her husband Skip and others have been going door-to-door, asking friends and neighbors to help, as they have done each year. But in 2009, the reception isn’t quite as generous. People are giving less and businesses are cutting back or are slow to respond.

“Because of the economy they’re just trickling in,” Pohtilla said of donations. She theorizes that people are just hunkered down, not quite ready to look around and see that others need a Thanksgiving dinner and a place to meet with old friends and make new ones.

This year’s dinner will be served Thanksgiving day, Nov. 26, from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge. As always, head chef Scott Fraser will oversee the cooking of a couple of hundred turkeys and an equal number of hams, while others prepare side dishes, set the tables with plates, silverware and flowers, and otherwise prepare for the throng.

While the economy seems to be dampening or at least delaying the volunteer spirit, Pohtilla expects bad times to increase the number of people taking advantage of the free meal. Organizers are preparing to serve 5,000 this year, a task that will require plenty of volunteers from the Navy, schools, Whidbey Cruzers car club and other traditional suppliers of willing workers.

Not only is dinner at the Elks Lodge free, but meals are sent out to shut-ins and people such as police, EMS responders and Navy personnel who have to work on Thanksgiving. The effort rings up an impressive bill, which last year totaled $17,000. Many people donate money for their dinner, but that’s used to pay present expenses, it’s not set aside for next year’s dinner.

Pohtilla said anyone new who volunteers won’t have any regrets.

“It’s a very hectic day but it’s very rewarding,” she said.

It’s satisfying to feed people in need, she explained, but the dinner also attracts the mayor and other community leaders and Navy commanders. In short, it attracts a cross-section of a very diverse community.

It’s easy to donate money or your time and talents. Just call 679-4483, or drop by and see Jack Stiltz at Bay Printing, 1131 SE Ely St., Oak Harbor.

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