More than 2,500 served

If anyone went without Thanksgiving dinner Thursday, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Not only did a couple of thousand people show up at the Elks Lodge for Oak Harbor’s third annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner, but hundreds of other working folks and shut-ins were treated to dinner delivery.

Colleen Ladwig, banquet manager, estimated 2,500 total meals were served, though it was hard to keep count with so many people coming and going. “There were an awful lot of them,” she said Friday morning. “It went really, really well, and people really, really appreciated it.”

For those who couldn’t attend the dinner, dinner came to them thanks to deliveries made by members of the Whidbey Cruzers car club. Any working folks they could think of received dinners, ranging from police and fire crews to motel workers and employees of other businesses that remained open on the holiday. Other meals were delivered to a long list of shut-ins who had called ahead for delivery.

Keith Bartlett, one of the founders of the event and the man who raises most of the money to pay for it, said “it went really, really good.” His main job was “taking care of what we ran out of — if we ran out of pies, I went and got more pies.”

Linda Owensby greeted people as they entered the lodge and signed in the volunteers, some of whom started work at 6 a.m. Thursday after spending most of Wednesday night getting ready as well. She tallied 147 volunteers, not counting some 20 or more people helping out in the kitchen.

The food was plentiful and delicious, and the company was good, filing the lodge with laughter and good cheer. “Everybody was just ecstatic,” Ownesby said. “It was just awesome.”

The dinner was free but many people donated anyway, and the donation jar was crammed with bills. Owensby, an accountant, tallied $2,810, a big increase from the $1,500 collected last year in the Community Dinner’s second presentation.

“It was ‘come and eat for free with no obligation’,” Ownesby said. “But most of them had money in their hand.” The money will help send kids to college.

Owensby said the volunteers appreciated the event as much as the diners did. Many mentioned “the good that we feel by giving — they just loved being a part of it,” she said.

Back in the kitchen, Jim Croft was among the many volunteers. He was a turkey cooker, keeping eight deep fryers busy from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., followed by long hours of clean-up.

Croft said 118 turkeys were fried while Bartlett smoked more than 60 others and brought them to the dinner. Was there enough to go around? “Oh, God, yes,” Croft said. Non-perishable leftovers were all donated to Help House.

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