Photo submitted
                                North Whidbey Harvest Festival brings together members of the community each year.

Photo submitted North Whidbey Harvest Festival brings together members of the community each year.

Community Harvest feeds togetherness

Everyone is family at the North Whidbey Community Harvest’s Thanksgiving dinner.

For the past 18 years, hundreds of people from all walks of life have attended the gathering to pull up their sleeves or pull up a chair. As many as 3,000 people will sit down to eat and 350 will volunteer their time.

For Skip Pohtilla, president of the nonprofit organization, it’s not about the sheer scale of the event. He said the effort is worth it whether they feed one family or a thousand families on turkey day.

“It embodies the spirit of what Thanksgiving is all about,” he said.

For those who come early, it can be a Thanksgiving brunch. The event is from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day at the Elks Lodge in Oak Harbor.

Pohtilla emphasized that the event represents a coming together of the community. Many people, organizations and businesses work together each year to make the meal happen. So many that he can’t name them all.

Island Thrift, for example, provided a generous grant. The Elks Lodge donates the space each year. The BBQ Joint smoked 80 turkeys. Haggen provided a monetary donation as well as rolls. Midway Florist is donating flower arrangements. Diamond Rentals provided tables.

“It’s truly a community event,” Pohtilla said. “It’s run by the community. It’s attended by the community.

“It’s about getting out and spending the holiday with friends, families and others in the community.”

He said he sees people coming in alone who end up sitting and talking with people who had been strangers.

Pohtilla said he hopes everyone who attends will avoid the pitfall that may spark conflict during the holiday in some families — namely talking about politics.

“It’s a fun, family-friendly event,” he said.

It was started by Keith Barlett, who passed away on Thanksgiving Day in 2004. Pohtilla said organizers have stayed true to the details he had insisted on. There’s not a plastic spoon in sight. There is linen on the tables, ceramic plates, real silverware and the servers are even dressed in white linen.

It’s quite a feast. Pohtilla said there will be smoked turkey, deep-fried turkey, ham — 800 pounds of it — and all the fixings, including stuffing and mashed potatoes. Diners can choose from pumpkin, pecan and apple pie.

In addition to the meal at the Elks Lodge, the volunteers put together meals that are either dropped off at people’s homes or picked up. They delivered 440 last year and about 400 were picked up.

Even with strong support, North Whidbey Community Harvest is still in need of donations. A trip to Costco, Pohtilla said, costs the group more than $5,000.

The group is about $10,000 behind in its goal of $23,000.

Pohtilla said the group will receive some of that from donations on Thanksgiving, but not enough.

Anyone who would like to help can drop off donations at Frasers Gourmet Hideaway, Farmers Insurance or mail to North Whidbey Community Harvest, c/o Skip Pohtilla, 1090 S.E. Hathaway St., Oak Harbor, WA 98277.

Anyone who would like a meal for delivery or pickup — or want to volunteer — should call 360-240-1477. Pohtilla asks that people not call the Elks Lodge prior to Thanksgiving Day.

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