OLYMPIA - Two community events found South Sound in a festive and giving mood Saturday, starting with the Sea Mar children's holiday party at Capital High School, followed by Barb O'Neill's annual Christmas lunch and dinner at the United Churches downtown.
Both are longtime events in which free meals are prepared and toys and clothes are given to those in need. The Sea Mar event began at 11 a.m., and about 500 people were expected to attend, said Rachel Alm, a health educator with Sea Mar Community Health Center of Thurston County.
Sea Mar had several similar events throughout Western Washington on Saturday, she said. The families of children who are patients at Sea Mar received an invitation, Alm said.
The nonprofit Sea Mar was formed in 1978 and provides medical and dental care in nine Washington counties to those who meet state and federal low-income guidelines.
Those who came were served a hot meal of turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, salad, fruit and pie. Children also got to take pictures with Santa Claus, and they received three age-appropriate, giftwrapped presents to take home.
Sea Mar client Mary Starostka of Olympia said it was her second time at the event. She was there with her granddaughter, daughter and other family members. Starostka doesn’t have health insurance, so Sea Mar has been a less-expensive alternative for her family.
“We’re here for the Christmas party, the fun of it and the spirit,” she said.
Cory Ellis of Olympia said it was his first time to volunteer.
“The smiles on the kids’ faces is the payoff,” he said.
About noon, the 41st annual Barb’s Family and Friends Christmas dinner got under way, serving about 100 to 200 people in the first hour. Rodney O’Neill, who has carried on the tradition where his mother left off, said his goal was to serve 2,500 meals.
Barb O’Neill, who ran a restaurant in downtown Olympia, started the Thanksgiving and Christmas meals as a way to help the homeless, but they have become a community event, open to anyone, he said. His mother died in 2008.
In light of the slower economy, “everybody needs a helping hand,” Rodney said. Seated next to him was his wife, Mily, and their two children, newborn Rodney II and Grace, 3.
The menu was a smorgasbord of goodies. It included barbecued ribs, chicken, pasta, greens, enchiladas, pizza, clam chowder, potato salad, dessert and beverages. A band played jazz music, and Rodney said 150 to 200 volunteers were on hand, some helping out on site while others were delivering meals. A number of South Sound restaurants also donated food, he said.
“Everybody is coming together,” Rodney said. “That’s what I love about this.”
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