Fun Day and a Free Meal at North Whidbey Community Harvest Thanksgiving Dinner

Posted in Community, Culinary, Feature, More Stories

BY LARA DUNNING
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
November 18, 2015

Every November, the question “Where are you going for Thanksgiving dinner?” begins to come up in casual conversation. For Skip Pohtilla it’s an easy answer—to the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge for the North Whidbey Community Harvest Thanksgiving Dinner, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Nov. 26.

“The free dinner is for everyone who would like to join us, have a pleasant experience and a Thanksgiving Day meal,” said Pohtilla, President of North Whidbey Community Harvest. “Everyone always has a good time.”

Guest’s plates fill up as they walk through the serving line. (photo courtesy of North Whidbey Community Harvest)

Guest’s plates fill up as they walk through the serving line. (photo courtesy of North Whidbey Community Harvest)

And good food, including types of turkey: smoked and deep fried. Then there’s ham, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, green beans and salad as well as pumpkin, apple and pecan pies, drinks and more. Executive Chef Scott Fraser, owner of Fraser’s Gourmet Hideaway, runs the kitchen; students from the Oak Harbor High School Culinary Program and hundreds of other individuals donate their time and culinary expertise.

Roger Anglum and his crew tend to the smoked hams and turkeys. (photo courtesy of North Whidbey Community Harvest)

Roger Anglum and his crew tend to the smoked hams and turkeys. (photo courtesy of North Whidbey Community Harvest)

Each year the event serves around 2,800 to 3,200 meals to people from all walks of life. Seating is family style so you might end up sitting next to the mayor, a military man or woman stationed away from home, a person who’s homeless or a family in need, or a local business owner.

Guests dine on china with real silverware and everyone at the serving table wears a white linen coat. This elegant touch was very important to co-founder Keith Bartlett, who passed away in 2004. “It’s part of the Thanksgiving dinner experience he [Bartlett] wanted to provide,” said Pohtilla. “If a drink spills it’s no big deal. The table cloth is switched out and the meal continues.”

Tablecloths, flowers and silverware are set at each table for Thanksgiving Dinner. (photo courtesy of North Whidbey Community Harvest)

Tablecloths, flowers and silverware are set at each table for Thanksgiving Dinner. (photo courtesy of North Whidbey Community Harvest)

If you can’t make it to the Elks Lodge, they’ll bring dinner to you for free. Members of Whidbey Cruzers Car Club provide delivery service to North Whidbey, Oak Harbor and Coupeville. Over the years they’ve delivered around 400 meals every holiday to the elderly, hospital staff and other working employees. To request a delivery, leave a message on the dinner request line at 360-240-0175 with your name and number and Delivery Coordinator Marty Malloy will contact you. To make requests on Thanksgiving Day, call the Oak Harbor Elks Lodge at 360-675-7111.

Delivery Coordinator Marty Malloy organizes meals to be delivered. (photo courtesy of North Whidbey Community Harvest)

Delivery Coordinator Marty Malloy organizes meals to be delivered. (photo courtesy of North Whidbey Community Harvest)

The year-long organizing and preparation for the dinner is no small feat. Now in its 15th year, there are 14 volunteer organizers and around 400 volunteers who help make this day a success. “It’s a cooperative effort,” said Pohtilla. “It’s fun getting things set up and seeing it all come together.”

Volunteer opportunities range widely, from set-up, food prep, greeters, servers and parking lot attendants. Some volunteers like to return to specific duties each year; Scott Fisher and Jim Croft run the fryers, Wayne Locke brightens up the day as a clown, the same surgeons always carve the turkeys each year and the firemen from Oak Harbor Fire Department wash the large pots and pans.

A volunteer food runner helps restock the serving line. (photo courtesy of North Whidbey Community Harvest)

A volunteer food runner helps restock the serving line. (photo courtesy of North Whidbey Community Harvest)

The budget for the dinner, which includes 160 turkeys, is $18,000, and each year the request is made to individuals, businesses and organizations to help keep this tradition alive. It’s because of the generosity of the community that this event continues to flourish and grow each year.

Thanksgiving is a time to give thanks for our friends and family and the bounty of the land. It’s also a time to reach out to our neighbors in need and share a wonderful meal. And it’s safe to say North Whidbey Community Harvest Thanksgiving Dinner honors those traditions.

Jim Croft lowers a turkey into one of 12 deep fryers.

Jim Croft lowers a turkey into one of 12 deep fryers. (photo courtesy of North Whidbey Community Harvest)

North Whidbey Community Harvest Thanksgiving Dinner is held at the Oak Harbor Elks Club at 155 NE Ernst St. in Oak Harbor. Dinner is provided at no charge. Donations are greatly appreciated and can be mailed to North Whidbey Community Harvest, c/o Skip Pohtilla, 1090 SE Hathaway St., Oak Harbor, WA 98277.

Image at top: A volunteer greeter in costume helps a guest to her table.   (photo courtesy of North Whidbey Community Harvest)

North Whidbey Community Harvest
https://www.facebook.com/NorthWhidbeyCommunityHarvest/

Frasers Gourment Hideaway
http://www.frasersgh.com/

Whidbey Cruzers
http://www.whidbeycruzers.com/

Lara Dunning is enthusiastic about small town living and you can read more about her discoveries at Small Town Washington. She has been published in The Crossing Guide, Explore Anacortes and Waggoner’s Pacific Northwest Boating. Her interests include young adult novels, history, hiking and locavore inspired food.

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