Before Barb’s Family and Friends Annual Thanksgiving Dinner was served Wednesday, organizer Rodney O’Neill led a prayer.
In addition to thanking the Lord for all of the food that would feed hundreds of people, O’Neill put in a personal request.
“Please don’t let any of them not like my food,” O’Neill prayed.
Hundreds of people dropped by the First United Methodist Church in Olympia for the annual free meal, which included turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy and other holiday favorites.
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The meal was served by nearly 100 volunteers, including about 50 students from Timberline High School’s Cultural Awareness Club.
“It’s really important to give back,” said Zylene Hudson, 16, a Timberline junior. “I mean, especially looking at the world right now, seeing how people are being divided. We all need to stay together and be united.”
In its 47th year, the annual dinner was established by O’Neill’s mom, Barb, who began the tradition of organizing free holiday meals in the early 1970s. She died Jan. 1, 2008, but left a legacy that lives on through the meals and other efforts that are organized by the nonprofit Barb’s Family and Friends.
“I’m thankful for Barb’s Kitchen being here,” said Dale Starkweather, 51, as he waited in line for dinner. “(They’ve) got good meals, and they help out a lot.”
A few years ago, the nonprofit decided to market the meal to the entire community, not just the homeless or low-income. The event has grown so much it had to move to a bigger church this year, O’Neill said.
“Everyone here is so loving and is so kind to each other,” said Ruthlyn Tino, 15, a Timberline freshman. “It’s kind of like a family gathering.”
O’Neill and his sister Michelle Moore have remained active in the nonprofit’s events, and said they can feel their mom’s presence strongly at Thanksgiving dinner.
It’s been a tough year for the family, Moore said. O’Neill is still recovering from a stroke he suffered in February.
“The love of my family has brought me through,” he said. “It helped me heal to this point. I could not walk. My whole right side was paralyzed. ... I feel pretty strong right now.”
In addition, the nonprofit usually partners with a local radio station to collect toys for its annual Christmas event. However, because of the timing of the holiday, they won’t be able to do that this year, Moore said. They’re hoping social media and word of mouth will get them enough toys for the Dec. 17 giveaway, Moore said.
Moore said her mom would be happy that her holiday meals have continued. She considered “pretty much half of Olympia” as her kids, Moore said.
“I think she would say that she’s proud and that she loves everyone,” Moore said.
If you want to help
For information on donating toys to Barb’s Family and Friends, go to oly-wa.us/barbs.