Thanks, giving at North Whidbey Community Harvest

Volunteers set to serve 3,000 free turkey dinners and 160 pies

Let’s talk turkey.

Let’s talk 180 turkeys and how to prepare them all in time for Thanksgiving Day.

That’s the annual challenge for North Whidbey Community Harvest that hosts some 3,000 people to a free, hot turkey dinner with all the trimmings on Thanksgiving Day. Once again, it takes place at Oak Harbor’s Elks Lodge.

“We’ll have 180 turkeys cooked up, 800 pounds of ham and 160 big pies from Costco,” said Skip Pohtilla, president of North Whidbey Community Harvest, a non-profit volunteer organization devoted to making sure no one goes hungry on Thanksgiving.

About half the turkeys will be smoked, courtesy of Orlando’s Fish and Grill and The BBQ Joint; the others deep-fried, courtesy of the volunteer duo, Scott Fisher and Jim Croft.

Smoking of the big birds started last Thursday.

Scott Fraser, chef and owner of Frasers Gourmet Hideaway, will once again be ensconced in the kitchen juggling boatloads of mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, gravy and ambrosia.

All are welcome, no questions asked at the door. A wide variety of people usually come — families, military, senior citizens, the homeless and those not wanting to spend the day alone at home.

There’s always enough food — even a long table of hor d’oeuvres to nibble while waiting in line.

Now in its 17th year of serving the monumental meal, the harvest counts on local chefs donating their time and talent, food from local farmers and grocery stores, and businesses, organizations and individuals donating money.

The budget for this year’s feast is $22,000, Pohtilla said.

“Typically we calculate 2,500 to 3,200 people at the Elks Lodge and another 400 meals to deliver,” said Pohtilla.

There’s a stalwart group of about a dozen volunteers who take charge of the buying, cooking, serving, clean-up, smoking , deep frying, delivering meals and other logistics. They plan and work on logistics year round, Pohtilla said.

“It’s a group of big-hearted people who enjoy putting this on for the community,” he said. “The event would not be able to run without them.”

The Oak Harbor Fire Department also pitches in with clean-up duty, said Pohtilla’s wife, K.C. Pohtilla.

”They have come through each year to perform the lion’s share of the heavy clean-up and break down after we finish,” she said. “Several years they came straight to the Elks Lodge after finishing a call. They apologized for being a little late, took off their coats and went right to work.”

Other Whidbey organizations are also preparing a sit-down dinner or delivering food. The 20th annual Coupeville Community Thanksgiving is 12-2:30 p.m. at Coupeville Recreation Hall. The Mobile Turkey Unit out of Langley will once again deliver meals.

Local food banks also gave away turkeys.

Skip and K.C. Pohtilla have long spent the holiday of thanks and giving preparing and serving food for others.

“One time we were in Washington, D.C. on Thanksgiving and she said, ‘We’re not going to eat at a restaurant,’” Skip Pohtilla recalled. “So she found an organization that serves a Thanksgiving meal on the steps of Capitol Hill and there we were filling plates.”

At the Elks Lodge on Thanksgiving, about 300 of volunteers are needed for set-up, serving, clean-up and other duties.

“We still need volunteers and (financial) donations,” Skip Pohtilla said.

North Whidbey Community Harvest Dinner started out small — by today’s standards — with 500 diners.

Keith Bartlett, owner of Pot Belly Deli, began cooking and serving a free Thanksgiving Day dinner in 2001. Jack Stiltz, owner of Bay Printing, also played a key role in its early days.

Following Bartlett’s death in 2004, Fraser stepped up to help with food preparation.

Many of Bartlett’s traditions continue.

“Keith insisted on regular plates and silverware,” Skip Pohtilla said. “No paper plates or plastic. The table clothes are linen.

“We want to provide that little bit of extra.”

North Whidbey Community Harvest will once again serve a free fully-loaded Thanksgiving dinner at the Elks Lodge. Some 3,000 people are expected; another 400 meals will be delivered. Photo provided

North Whidbey Community Harvest will once again serve a free fully-loaded Thanksgiving dinner at the Elks Lodge. Some 3,000 people are expected; another 400 meals will be delivered. Photo provided