Every Thanksgiving, dozens of North Coast residents turn into hidden heroes by spending some or most of their own holiday time to make sure others can enjoy a convivial celebration and plenty of free, traditional food.
Sometimes, the celebration changes lives, as volunteer Artie Simon knows well.
The annual community Thanksgiving dinner is open to anybody and everybody. The meal and fun are all free.
Last year, volunteers served nearly 750 meals. At least that many are expected this year. Service will be from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 26, at the Veterans Memorial Building, 1000 Main St.; leftovers will be distributed immediately thereafter.
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Made a difference to Simon
Arthur “Artie” Simon of Cambria knows what a difference the Thanksgiving dinner can make to someone. When he partook of the 1987 meal, he was a wandering apple-picker from Washington State, on the road seeking warmer climes.
He got to the Cambria dinner on a fluke, after having been invited by Peter Bastasch of the Cambria Vineyard Church. The meal was wonderful, Simon recalls, but the company was even better.
It inspired him to become a Christian, and he stayed in Central California. Then he returned to Cambria for a July 4th event the following year.
Again, he connected with Bastasch, who gave Simon a dog.
After that, Simon said, “I didn’t want to leave Cambria.”
Within four days, he’d found a job. The Lodge Hill resident has been here ever since.
“Cambria is one of the greatest finds of my adult life,” Simon said. For the past eight years, he’s worked at Cookie Crock Market, and is now the “assistant dairy boss.”
To give back, Simon shows up every year near the end of the Thanksgiving dinner. He eats and socializes, then grabs a broom to sweep the floor, or helps to organize things, or (now that he has a truck) helps the organizers take items back to the Vineyard Church office.
“I don’t have family here, so the dinner gives me something to do, someplace to be,” he said. “That’s my Thanksgiving.
“I know it touches people, because I was touched by it,” he said. “It changes lives.”
Volunteers of all types
It takes months of planning and organization to put on the meal, a juggling act performed by Chef Daun Putney and her team of volunteers, some of whom have participated in the event for decades.
Volunteers are from the Vineyard and other churches, as well as other individuals. The confirmation class from Santa Rosa Catholic Church is helping this year.
The work isn’t all done at the hall. Some people prepare turkeys at home or at their restaurants. Some volunteers bake pies or other desserts, or fill big pans with stuffing, sweet potatoes, salad and other trimmings of the traditional dinner.
Still more volunteers decorate the hall, cook, coordinate and serve the meal, or, like Simon, clean it.
Other volunteers deliver the dinners through Meals on Wheels to people who are physically unable to attend.
None of the volunteers participate to get credit, Putney said. They do it to help neighbors, especially those who can’t afford the meal, are shut-ins or who would otherwise be spending the day alone.
A hug, a smile, a laugh and a good, free meal on Thanksgiving Day: They warm the soul for those who give, as well as those who receive. The mutual gifts can change lives.