Forty years, one community meal

OLYMPIA - About 1,500 meals were expected to be served Wednesday as part of Barb's Family and Friends Thanksgiving Dinner, the 40th year that the O'Neill family has invited the South Sound community to share a meal.

By about 3 p.m. Wednesday at United Churches in downtown Olympia, 800 meals had been served, coordinator Rodney O’Neill said. He attributed the high turnout by midday to the slow economy and high rate of unemployment, although about 2,500 meals were served last year because of colder weather. The meal was offered from noon to 6 p.m.

Rodney, 43, has taken over where his mother, Barb, left off after she died on Jan. 1, 2008, he said.

Forty years ago, Barb began inviting people into her South Sound home for dinner, which later grew into the event it has become today, he said. Rodney said he can recall sharing lots of meals with strangers.

“If you were hungry, you were invited to come,” he said.

The community dinner was open to everyone and on the menu Wednesday were turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, yams, deviled eggs, fresh vegetables, salad and “lots of dessert,” as one volunteer put it.

It was the 10th year for Terry Zander of Olympia to volunteer, he said.

Zander, who described himself as a social activist, said he met Barb years ago when she ran a restaurant in downtown Olympia. He called her a wonderful woman and said he loves events that bring people together. One year Zander sat next to people who had just been released from prison. Another year he sat next to former Olympia Mayor Mark Foutch and another time he shared a meal with a resident from Camp Quixote, the city’s homeless camp. “You never know who is going to be at your table,” he said.

Tim Misner of Olympia said he enjoyed the food, although he thought the live jazz and fusion music was a little loud. Rodney Livingston of Seattle, visiting his girlfriend in the area for the holidays, picked up two plates of food to go, he said. Kelli Thurber and her daughter-in-law Samantha Nichols, both of Olympia, attended the dinner for the first time, they said. Thurber said it was her first time because she wasn’t sure whether the community meal was open to everyone. “I didn’t feel like I belonged before because I have a job,” she said, adding that she supports the event and might volunteer in the future.

Rolf Boone: 360-754-5403