BANDON — Twenty roasted turkeys, nine baked hams, pounds of hot mashed potatoes, trays of savory stuffing, steaming candied yams, green beans with onions, rolls, cranberry sauce, cole slaw, beverages and an array of desserts awaited those who came to share fellowship and enjoy a traditional meal on Thanksgiving Day at The Barn in Bandon.

The meal, made from scratch, has been served with care by a bevy of volunteers from the Bandon community every Thanksgiving for the past 36 years.

Started by the late Olive Williams, along with friends Marge Scott, Ruth Ball and others, the Bandon Holiday Community Meal began as a way for a group of people who might otherwise be alone to dine together at a central location. Everyone agreed that making a turkey dinner with all the trimmings was too much work for one or two people. It just made sense to pool their resources and talents and make one big meal and invite others. After a few years of success with the Thanksgiving meal, a committee formed to organize the event, which soon expanded to include a Christmas meal as well. 

All of the food is either donated or purchased with cash donations. Meal preparation begins the day before the event, and volunteers begin cooking turkeys before dawn the day of the meal. This year, 10 of the turkeys were cooked in the kitchen of The Barn, and an additional 10 were cooked at Lord Bennett's restaurant and taken to The Barn. 

From the beginning, everyone was welcome, regardless of income, and that's been the tradition to this day. The meal is free, but donations are appreciated and many people drop money in a jar as they enter. The traditional turkey dinners with all the trimmings started at the school district cafeteria, and were served there for a few years, then moved to The Barn and only temporarily were served at the VFW Hall while the old Barn was being remodeled.

More than 378 people were fed on Thursday, with another almost 100 meals delivered to home-bound people. The meals take hours to plan, schedule and execute and it's the volunteers who make it happen. About 40 people in the community come to cook, greet, serve and clean up on a day that is reserved for many as a time to stay home, eat, spend time with family and watch football. 

But the meal is often attended by families, and many families also come to volunteer. For Jeff and Stephanie Precourt, who've been helping with their four children ages 5 to 14 for the past three years since they moved to Bandon, it's an opportunity to teach about giving back and a chance to do something meaningful as a family. Dawn Dumler helped this year with her 9-year-old son for the same reason. City Councilor Madeline Seymour volunteers with her 91-year-old mother Patricia Siedler each year.

"I think it's such a great tradition," Seidler said. 

Seymour agreed.

"I like giving back to the community, that's what life's about," Seymour said. "Plus it's a lot of fun. Don't get me wrong, it's a grueling day, but we laugh and have fun."

On the other side, those who partake of the meal are grateful and gracious for both the fare and the friendship. 

This year, Colleen and Eric Wiesel took over as volunteer coordinators from RoseAnne and Bob Gates, who served in that capacity for several years. The Wiesels have been helping at the community meal since Eric's parents, Al and Syd Wiesel, moved to Bandon 21 years ago. Then, Colleen and Eric would come down during the holidays to help their parents cook and serve, but eight years ago they moved here permanently.

The people who started the tradition have slowly been retiring and a new group has stepped up. The younger Wiesels reflect the desire of many Bandon residents to serve the community. 

"It's always been a part of our lives, and when we moved here we became part of the board," Colleen said. "It's a meal for people to come together and have a place to go and it's also a way to reach out to the home-bound," Colleen said. 

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Joseph Bain has been involved almost every year since the meals began, helping serve and in the kitchen, then for the past 15 years, delivering to the home-bound. He enjoys the visits, bringing holiday cheer with meals in tow. 

"The holidays can be very sad for some people, so the chance to commune, if you will, is very important," Bain said. "The success of this and the Christmas meal says a lot about our community and how we care about each other."

Chuck Salt has been helping for more than 20 years and several years ago took over making the mashed potatoes from long-time potato masher Brian Vick, who taught him how to get just the right consistency.

"I'm the spud muffin," Salt joked. His wife Lorna also helped for many years.

"It's fun, it's just a nice service and it's nice to mingle with all the people," Chuck Salt said.

For the Wiesels, it's a effort they also enjoy and even during the Thanksgiving meal, Colleen was busy recruiting volunteers for the Christmas meal, which will be served from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Dec. 25 at The Barn.

"We just love to serve and we love to give to this great community," Wiesel said.

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