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Families of Crook County veterans invited to the first-time event at Carey Foster Hall

Shannon Dearth, Crook County's Veteran Service Office director, was sitting with his wife brainstorming ways to not only thank local veterans, but their loved ones.

He had recently learned that passage of Measure 96 during the 2016 election would result in his department receiving additional funding. The measure pledges 1.5 percent of statewide lottery dollars to county veteran service offices, and the money can be used for a variety of veteran services.

"How can I give back to the veterans and say thank you at the same time?" he wondered.

The answer, Dearth and his wife finally decided, was a free dinner in connection with the Thanksgiving holiday. Not only would veterans be invited, their spouses and families would be encouraged to attend as well.

"I realized I want to say thank you to the spouses too. That is why families are welcome too," he said.

Dearth considered a few different dates for the Veterans and Military Appreciation Dinner, trying to keep the event close to the Thanksgiving holiday, but ultimately settled on Tuesday, Nov. 28, a time just after the four-day weekend.

"This way, it is after everyone comes back," he explained. "Usually, the week before Thanksgiving or the week of, everybody is traveling."

However, the date was not too late to coincide with another special occasion. Dearth learned a couple weeks ago that President Donald Trump and Veteran Affairs Secretary David Sulkin had declared November as Veteran and Military Family Appreciation Month.

"This is perfect," he thought.

The Tuesday dinner, planned from 3 to 6 p.m. at Carey Foster Hall, will include many of the traditional Thanksgiving meal staples. Turkey is, of course, on the menu as well as mashed potatoes and stuffing as well miniature pies for dessert.

"It is going to be a full holiday meal," Dearth said.

The holiday emphasis was important to Dearth. He points out that many veterans have sacrificed a lot of things, including the pleasure and comfort of spending the holidays with loved ones.

"In a way, you could almost say this is a way of making up for one of those holidays that they missed," he said.

In addition to inviting veterans and their families, Dearth said he is reaching out to the assisted living facilities in Prineville and contacting widows and widowers as well as shut-in veterans.

"They are still part of the family," he said.

Several county departments and members of the Crook County Court have volunteered to serve food and take care of other needs during the dinner.

"It is something that the county court is very supportive of," said County Judge Seth Crawford, who also serves as the governing body's veteran service office liaison. "We want to do whatever we can do to help give back to our veterans as well as expand our reach into the local veterans community."

The help is welcome, especially since it gives some veterans a break who might normally dive in and serve food and take care of other needs tied to the dinner.

"I love the auxiliary from the VFW and American Legion," Dearth said. "They are awesome. They are always running around cooking, cleaning, taking care of things. I want them especially to sit down and be honored as well."

Though the dinner does not directly involve Crook County residents without a connection to the military, Dearth considers this event a way for the entire community to express their appreciation. He explains that lottery dollars funneled to the county are paying for the dinner, therefore local taxpayers have a stake in putting on the event.

"I am seeing this more as the community saying thank you to the veterans," he said.

While this dinner is the first of its kind in Crook County, Dearth is hoping it won't be the last. He admits that future events will depend on the continued availability of lottery dollars, but at this point, it appears the funds will remain available in the years ahead.

"I would like to see this happen annually," he said.

The Veteran and Military Appreciation Dinner will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 28 from 3 to 6 p.m. at Carey Foster Hall. For more information on the dinner, please call 541-447-5304.

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