Free Thanksgiving dinner is the start of Valley plans for homeless

Mount Si Lutheran Church will serve as a temporary home for the holiday, for area homeless this week. Volunteers from the church, as well as the North Bend Sheriff’s Substation, and the Mount Si Food Bank, are combining efforts and resources to put on a free Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless.

The dinner, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., was organized in just a few weeks’ time, and volunteers are excited about helping others this week, even if they have no idea how many others might attend.

“It’s possible, the servers may outnumber the guests, but if they do, so what?” said Mark Toner, North Bend’s chief of police services, “If they outnumber us, and if we run low on food, we’ll just start slicing the turkey thinner.”

Toner, whose department began organizing the dinner, said he got the idea for it after a citizen sent him a letter with her concerns for the homeless, and asking what she could do to help.

“It started small, ‘hey, what we can do at the sheriff’s office?’” Toner said, but any public meal like the one planned is subject to many restrictions, like requiring licensed food servers to prepare and serve the food, for starters. “That’s when we found out you can’t just cook a dinner and invite a bunch of people over,” Toner sighed.

That’s also when they started expanding their plans, and bringing in partners like the church, the Mount Si Senior Center, and the food bank.

The food bank is doing a fantastic job, he said, and they aren’t trying to replace them, “but what we’re looking at is, what if you don’t have a place to cook a turkey?”

Each of the partners is contributing to the dinner, and some participants are also putting in their own funds, so there will be no cost for the dinner to any partner agency, or to any of the guests.

“This is truly a ‘hey, everybody else is getting together, here’s a place for you’ event,” said Toner.

He's gratified to see the interest in other community groups, and hopes to expand on that with a community discussion on establishing a homeless shelter in North Bend. The first meeting was Tuesday, Nov. 6, with nearly 40 people attending. Toner tried to guide the conversation to what the communities could do immediately to help homeless people, while looking at a longer-term solution. He also stressed that he didn't want to create a problem in the community with a shelter, either by distressing neighbors, or by enabling people to remain homeless in the long term.

The next meeting is Tuesday, Nov. 20, 5 p.m. at the North Bend Community Church, 146 E. 3rd St.


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