Day before Thanksgiving? Then it must be Barb’s

Same time, same place, same great cause.

For the 45th year, all roads led to Barb’s Family and Friends, the community institution that once again prepared a free Thanksgiving meal on Wednesday, which is open to anyone, although it targets the less fortunate.

The meal, which took place from noon to 5 p.m., was hosted, as it usually is, by The United Churches in downtown Olympia. And front and center was Rodney O’Neill, busy talking to volunteers, accepting a hug or a thank-you for another year of fellowship and food.

Rodney has carried on the tradition that was started by his mother and community icon Barb O’Neill, who passed away a few years ago.

Diners lined up shortly before noon and then dug into a buffet that included turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, rolls, deviled eggs and green beans. There was also another long table of desserts.

Rodney O’Neill said planning for the meal begins a couple months in advance. He met with Lessa Mangold in October, who helped organize the meal.

“Everybody does what needs to be done,” she said about the more than 100 volunteers on Wednesday. “It really shows how much people care. We need more of it.”

Diners found their place between the two long tables of food. There also was live music and free clothes being distributed in another room at the church.

That’s where Ron Bay of Olympia, who said he was in his late 50s, picked up two sweaters. He then sat down with his plate of food and acknowledged that he “got poor the last couple of years.”

He said he has a place to live and a small income, but still appreciates the meal. He comes most years, Bay said.

Perhaps more thankful was Chris McCloskey, 31, a veteran who relocated to Olympia for a “better life” from Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, he said.

He was homeless and sleeping in his truck until he received assistance from The Salvation Army, followed by Catholic Community Services, which has helped him get into an apartment. He’s set to occupy the apartment Dec. 4, he said.

McCloskey did not receive such a warm welcome in Coeur d’Alene where, he said, the warming shelter doesn’t open until it is 25 degrees or colder. The St. Vincent De Paul shelter also has a limited number of beds.

“It’s great,” McCloskey said about the meal. “This community is awesome to the homeless.”

If you missed Barb’s Thanksgiving meal, don’t fret. Rodney and crew will do it all over again on Dec. 20 at the same time, same place and for the same great cause.