For hundreds of North Coast diners, Thanksgiving means sharing with family, friends and strangers a free community dinner in Cambria. For others, such as Dan and Jill Williams of San Simeon, the event means banding together with other volunteers to provide the festive feast.
They’ll start serving this year’s free Thanksgiving dinner at 11:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28, at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St., in Cambria, and continue until 2 p.m. or whenever the food runs out.
Fortunately, that almost never happens before the end of the event, courtesy of generous donors, including Cambria Vineyard Church, Community Presbyterian Church of Cambria, Santa Rosa Catholic Church, Cookie Crock Market, Robin’s Restaurant, Creekside Gardens Café, Manta Rey Restaurant and Calvary Chapel Church. Other donors include Mission Country Disposal and Taylor Rental.
Also, Chef Daun Putney of the Cambria Vineyard Church, organizer of the holiday meal, plans so well that there usually are leftovers to share with those who bring in their own storage containers at 2 p.m.
Everybody is welcome to attend and partake at the dinner, a traditional holiday meal of turkey, dressing, gravy, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, rolls, butter, beverages and all sorts of pies. There’s music and laughter and camaraderie all around.
This year, Putney said, stage managing the event requires a staff of 112 volunteers ranging in age from 8 to mid-80s.
That means an early start to their Thanksgiving Day, to prep, coordinate, divvy up and serve the meal to hundreds of hungry people — pretty much all at once.
Mental snapshots of previous events include:
• A swarm of decorators adding harvest touches to the tables and stage.
• The fast-hands assembly line preparing meals for shut-ins who made advance reservations for Thanksgiving dinner to be delivered to their homes.
• Greeters giving hugs and sharing smiles and laughs with diners.
• Super slicers Jon Greenburg and Dean Anderson, like Samurai warriors of the kitchen, carving bird after bird after bird.
• Kitchen helpers filling and shuttling chafer trays laden with fresh, hot food to be dished up by the merry servers behind the table.
• Those with the happy task of handing out slice after slice of pie, and
• A cheerful team of elves making sure everyone has what they need and then whisking away used settings to prepare for the next wave of hungry diners.
For Dan and Jill Williams, however, Cambria’s Thanksgiving fest means empty plates, full trashcans, scruffy floors and a gazillion chairs to fold up and put away.
They’re in charge of cleaning up after dinner’s done, a task Putney calls crucial to the whole shebang. The volunteers feel duty-bound to make sure everything’s absolutely ship-shape, she said, before she returns the key to the Memorial Building. After all, the Cambria Community Services District waives the rental fee for the hall, because the volunteer-run, nonprofit event benefits the community.
The dynamic Williams duo worked on the clean-up detail for the first time last year, according to Putney, and they did such a good job that they’re leading the 2013 mop-and-broom brigade. “They’re super excited about joining in with the community dinner this year,” she said in delighted amazement.
Dan Williams is a member of the San Simeon Community Services District Board of Directors and a brunch steward at San Simeon Pines Seaside Resort. His wife, a retired travel agent, volunteers through Vineyard Church to help provide food throughout the year for those in need.
The former Simi Valley couple said the ever-persuasive Putney lassoed them into the job that “we’re proud to do,” Dan Williams said. “Cleanup takes about an hour,” more or less, depending on how many helpers are there. Usually, there are quite a few.
“Everybody seems to pitch in.” he said. “I really love and appreciate that” about North Coast residents. “Wherever they see something that needs to be done, they do it,” in the manner of many meeting attendees who, when a gathering ends, carefully fold up their chairs and set them at the side rail.
“I’m really proud of people who serve the community,” he said. “You don’t hear about them very often, but they just step up to the plate and do the job.”
Follow Kathe Tanner on Twitter at @CambriaReporter.