Barb's guests fed once more

OLYMPIA - People queued up Saturday to receive free meals and clothing during Barb's Family & Friends Christmas Dinner, a holiday tradition that comes near the end of a year that has been particularly challenging for many families.

The free meal put on by Barb’s Family & Friends was the second this year, coming about a month after a Thanksgiving meal, organizer Rodney O’Neill said. The dinners have been held for 40 years, and O’Neill’s goal Saturday was to serve about 3,000 people. Rodney has carried on a tradition that his mother, Barb, carried on for years from her house until she died Jan. 1, 2008.

By about midday, more than 1,500 people had been served a hot meal or stood in line to get clothes. They also could pick out toys for their children, or children could pick out gifts for their parents, O’Neill said.

The Christmas dinner, like the Thanksgiving dinner, took place at The United Churches in downtown Olympia. The Christmas dinner used to be held the day before Christmas Eve, but O’Neill said he has to schedule the dinners on weekends so they won’t conflict with his job.

About 1 p.m., people surrounded all 10 tables in the dining hall, a band played jazz music in the corner, and a steady stream of diners filled their plates with barbecue pork, chicken, baked beans, coleslaw, collard greens, corn bread, beets and potato salad.

Among those serving food was longtime volunteer Barbara Pease of Olympia. She also volunteered for the Thanksgiving dinner and called the experience gratifying.

“There are a lot of empty bellies out there,” she said.

Also on hand was Peter Powers, a volunteer for 10 years, he said. Powers took a moment to gesture at the room after he was asked why he continues to volunteer his time.

“Take a look around,” he said. “There is a need.”

Anyone can attend the dinners, which tend to attract the most needy. Barbara Murray of Olympia, who came with two grandchildren, said she lost her job and house this year and is sharing a motel room with a friend. Still, she said, she remains upbeat.

“I’m not going to sit still; I’m going to do something about it,” she said.

Also showing up for a meal Saturday was James Clinton, 74, of Olympia. Clinton said he has known the O’Neills for a long time and enjoys the food.

“I get to reunite with friends I don’t normally see,” he said.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403