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About 500 folks attended Thanksgiving at the Elks

A group of Oak Harbor volunteers and business leaders that banded together to provide a Thanksgiving meal to any community member that needed or wanted it, report the event went extremely well.

Approximately 500 people showed up at the Elks Lodge at 155 NE Ernst St. on Thursday for a hearty Thanksgiving meal in a festive holiday environment. Additionally, people unable to leave their homes received meals by delivery.

The event was a year in the making, organized by Keith Bartlett, owner of Pot Belly Deli, and Jack Stiltz, owner of Bay Printing.

The two men soon found overwhelming support from dozens of Oak Harbor businesses and groups, which donated money, food and volunteer time to the event. More than 160 volunteers cooked, served, cleaned, and provided transportation.

“It was awesome,” Bartlett said on Friday. Bartlett and his volunteer staff cooked 1,300 pounds of turkey, along with all the trimmings.

“They loved it. One guy said it was better than eating at Grandma’s,” Bartlett said.

Hundreds of people from all walks of life came through the doors, said Lyla Lillis of the Whidbey Cruzers. Members of the classic car group delivered meals to shut-ins, provided rides to and from the Elk’s Lodge for anyone that needed transportation, and helped in serving and cleaning up.

Young couples, older couples, homeless people, single-parent families, two-parent families and military personnel were among those coming in for the holiday meal, Lillis said.

“Some Navy guys showed up and ate, then stayed and helped out,” Stiltz said. “I put them to work carving turkeys.”

Some on-duty Oak Harbor firefighters stopped by for a quick meal before getting back to work, and volunteers delivered meals to the 911 dispatchers at ICOM as well.

Bartlett and Stiltz will spend the the coming 12 months planning another Thanksgiving meal next year. They hope to have an even greater turnout, but they agree that Thursday’s event went off rather well for the first year.

“The volunteer service we had on this whole thing was great,” Stiltz said. “I’m really proud of the community.”

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