EUGENE, Ore. (KMTR) -- A warm Thanksgiving was held for thousands in Eugene / Springfield on Thursday as hundreds of volunteers and hundreds more community members joined forces for the Whiteaker Community Thanksgiving Dinner.
The annual gathering started up around 11 AM on Thursday, November 22 at the old Whiteaker School Building in Eugene. An estimated 2,500 people were served for the meal.
The event is more than two decades old, celebrating its 24th year serving the community. While much has stayed the same including the general food and location, much has changed at the dinner. Many are saying the event is more important than ever this year as a demand for help continues to grow.
A Eugene resident, Ron was one of the thousands who got a free meal on Thursday.
"It's like the people who have no family . . . You have a family now,” said Ron.
An army of volunteers helped put it all together over the last few weeks. Dozens of students from the Lane Community College Culinary Arts program helped prepare and cook the meal last weekend.
Former Eugene Mayor and current Eugene 4J School Board member Jim Torrey was one of the many volunteers on the line, something he’s done for many years.
“I keep thinking, boy, if they were my grandkids and their family, I would hope somebody would do what this community does,” said Torrey.
Another volunteer, Norma Landy volunteered Thursday with her kids.
“If they're feeding 2500 people, what's happening all over the [other] cities?” said Landy.
Many social services across Lane County are expecting a surge in demand this winter. Volunteers running the Egan Warming Centers are expecting over capacity more often. Meanwhile, the City of Eugene just gave $225,000 toward several programs they hope to help this winter.
While there is a demand for more, many volunteers hope Thursday’s Thanksgiving meal helps give those in need a little bit of a leg up. Several hundred of the people in line Thursday also got free clothes, sleeping bags, bathroom supplies and more.
"There must be 600 volunteers that make this happen and we just wish we could do it more,” says Toby Alves, a volunteer with the Whiteaker Dinner.