In the community

Vale group keeps the focus on the community with holiday dinners

VALE – One of the most inclusive holiday events in town began as a collaborative effort among a small group of residents who decided to make each Thanksgiving and Christmas special in Vale.

No single member of the Feast Group takes credit for developing the idea for a community Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner. Instead the 13-member group spreads around the accolades – and the work.

The goal is providing an outlet for the community during the holiday season.

“We want to promote the community but also fill the gaps for folks who don’t have family near or who would like a family-style dinner,” said Feast Group member Tom Vialpando, also the Vale mayor.

Vialpando’s comments came as the group finalized plans for this year’s community Thanksgiving dinner, a turkey feast from noon to 2 p.m. on the holiday, Nov. 23, at Vale Elementary School.

The community Christmas dinner will be at the Vale High School from noon to 2 p.m. Christmas Day.

Everyone is welcome. The dinners feature traditional holiday fare – turkey, ham, stuffing, corn, cranberries, rolls, mashed potatoes and gravy.

Last year, he said, the group served about 180 people at the Thanksgiving dinner and handed out 220 meals at the Christmas event.

“We also invite people who just don’t want to cook,” he said.

The origins of the two dinner events go back to an Oregon Food Bank grant about five years ago, said Cathy Zacharias, a Feast Group member and Vale business owner.

“It was designated for communities to come together and figure out what projects they wanted to take on, and it had to be tied specifically for food distribution purposes,” said Zacharias, who is president of the Vale Chamber of Commerce.

Zacharias said the grant funded a community garden and then the summer school lunch program for one year.

A small amount of money remained so the Feast Group decided to use it to for the community dinners.

The dinners are now possible through donations, said Vialpando.

“We’ve had great donations from local churches and community members who want to see this continue,” said Vialpando.

This year, said Zacharias, donations from the Vale Grace Lutheran and the Vale Community Methodist churches proved crucial.

In the past, other local organizations such as the Vale Food Pantry and EP Minerals also donated food and money, said Zacharias.

The Feast Group kicked off its 2023 effort about four weeks ago, said Zacharias.

“We get together and discuss how many people we think will come based on how many we had last year. We divide up responsibilities. I got a hold of the school to make sure we could secure the facility,” said Zacharias.

At a meeting Monday, Nov. 13, the group finalized details for the Thanksgiving dinner.

“We figured out where the turkeys will come from, decide to throw something up on Facebook seeking donations,” said Zacharias.

She said she expects more people will show up for the two dinners than in the past.

Donations, however, are slightly down.

“Personally, I feel that’s because the way the economy is, people are not making the donations they are used to making. People are trying to feed their own families,” said Zacharias.

Members of the Feast Group include Vern Pritchard, Madeline Fischer, Anne Jensen, Chris Mohammed, Ray Hage, Karlene Keller, Chris Barton, Frank and Patty Yraguen, Jessica Vialpando and Dwight Keller.

Vialpando said the Feast Group is always looking for more volunteers to help during the dinners.

So far, he said, the Feast Group has been fortunate each year with volunteer assistance.

For example, Todd and Susan Gregory, the owners of the Willowcreek Store, volunteered to cook the turkeys this year.

“Community members and family members show up to help. Last year, volunteer wise, we had over 20 people,” said Vialpando.

Vialpando said early on there was a misconception about the dinners.

“When we started people thought it was just for homeless people. But it is not. It is for the whole community. Everyone is welcome,” he said.

To donate or volunteer to help with the dinners, contact Vialpando at 208-994-1321 or Zacharias at 541-216-1839.

News tip? Contact reporter Pat Caldwell at [email protected]

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