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31st Community Thanksgiving Held by Whiteaker Neighborhood

For many who are low-income or homeless, Thanksgiving may involve a meal at a soup kitchen. But for some, the holiday is a party.

Beverly Farfan has been the lead coordinator of the Whiteaker community dinner for 24 years. According to her, the dinner started in 1971, after neighbors in the Whiteaker area suggested hosting a dinner for people in need. 

Upon arrival, volunteers in the welcome tent serve coffee. There is also a barking lot—where pets are provided food, leashes, and toys while owners go inside to eat their meal. 

Credit Elizabeth Gabriel / KLCC News
Volunteers move food into the outdoor cooler ot be cooked on Thursday.

Inside, a free clothing store is in the cafeteria and a wellness massage room is located in the staff lounge. Prepared by the Lane Community College Culinary Arts program, the Thanksgiving dinner is held in the gym with live musical performances. Kids entertainment includes arts and crafts and face painting. Students in the Lane Community College Nursing program will also provide flu shots. 

Community donations have gone toward buying gloves and sleeping bags that will be given out, and people can go into the free store to choose a bag of clothing. But there are only so many items to give out.

Credit Elizabeth Gabriel / KLCC News
Sleeping bags to be passed out on Thanksgiving day.

“We’re fortunate we have over 300 sleeping bags—that’s a lot—but when you figure there’s like 1,000 people at least going through the line that we give out numbers to, there’s lots of people who aren’t going to get a sleeping bag,” said Farfan.

Since attendees are given numbers when they arrive, people will sleep outside the building Wednesday night in order to save their spot in line for the store. Farfan said she typically arrives at the Whiteaker Community Head Start Center to begin set up at 5am, and there’s already 100 people waiting in line. For those who arrive Wednesday night, Farfan said they try to accommodate them before Thursday.

“We have lots of things that are in big boxes so we put boxes down so people can sleep on them or in them or something—anything to help keep warm,” said Farfan. “And if somebody comes in and they really don’t have a jacket or they don’t really have appropriate [items] to keep them warm, we’ll go into the free store and we’ll pull out blankets and things and give it to the people that night.” 

Credit Elizabeth Gabriel / KLCC News
Coats hanging in the free store before they are claimed on Thursday.

For those who don’t have transportation, they can call and ask a volunteer to pick them up. About 50-60 rides are given to people coming to the dinner, and over 200 rides are given once the dinner is over.

When asked how the event comes together, Farfan said getting people to donate isn’t a problem. She said community members and organizations want to complete their part of the Thanksgiving dinner puzzle. 

Credit Elizabeth Gabriel / KLCC News
Volunteers move serving trays.

“I always say it runs like a jigsaw puzzle where I may have the box—I open up the box—but there’s so many people and organizations that work on the picture and they all do their side, place, and thing. And they really take responsibility and ownership for that picture and they know that it’s so important. And everybody is important. Every guest that comes, every volunteer that comes is another puzzle piece that makes that great day picture.”

Farfan said it’s truly a day of thanks and giving as at least 600 volunteers come together to help.

“There’s just lots of people—lots of caring people,” said Farfan. “And a lot of our volunteers are also some of the people who may be needing things.”

Since the amount of homelessness in Eugene has increased, Farfan said they’re prepared to feed 2,500 people. In the past, she said dinner guests and volunteers have come from cities such as Cottage Grove, Veneta, and Junction City.

Elizabeth Gabriel is a former KLCC Public Radio Foundation Journalism Fellow. She is an education reporter at WFYI in Indianapolis.
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