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You don't have to be poor to enjoy this free community dinner at Mt. Scott Community Center

DAVID F. ASHTON - Diners Zi and Hope said they were thankful for the wonderful meal, and to be in the company of a warm and caring community. For an unprecedented eighth year in a row, everyone in the community was invited to the free Thanksgiving Day "Feast for Southeast", this year on November 23, at the Mt. Scott Community Center.

Dozens of volunteers arrived early to set up and spend the day in service to their community on this holiday, led by the two chief organizers now carrying on this traditional communal dinner: Chef Mel Payne, and chief event organizer Kendall Palmer.

"I've been here since the very beginning; I started out just doing decorations for this the first year, but as the originating couple stepped back from it, I slowly but surely picked up more responsibility," Palmer told THE BEE, minutes before the doors opened at 1 p.m. Thanksgiving afternoon.

Although they served a complete Thanksgiving dinner to some 500 people – from all walks of life – Palmer observed, "It's really not about the numbers for us; what we talk about most is that we're doing this to help make positive connections in our community."

More than simply presenting a good meal and offering personal comfort supplies, Palmer added, "this afternoon is actually about providing human connections and conversation with our 'table hosts' and servers here today. In this way, we build our community, and break down barriers."

Volunteers in this annual event went on to create an organization they call "Gather Portland", a nonprofit umbrella that will host additional events and projects, Palmer said – "All with the focus and goal of creating connection, community, and caring for everyone."

As other volunteers set up the dining room, and prepared to welcome the guests, Chef Mel Payne worked with her crew to make ready the final food preparations.

"Because I don't have a big family here to enjoy Thanksgiving Day with, I enjoy spending my time in this kitchen, serving the community; my crew is my family today – in fact my brother, partner, and two of my best friends helped make this dinner," Payne smiled. "We really 'killed it' this year; this dinner is the best one of the three years we've been involved!"

Tallying it all up, the food crew cooked 18 turkeys and 11 hams, made 120 pounds of mashed potatoes, as well as 50 pounds of Brussels sprouts with sautéed onions and red peppers, and 50 pounds of sweet potatoes. And then there were gallons of gravy, plus a vegetarian protein for those requiring it.

During the meal, volunteers brought beverages to the diners, along with refills.

In a side room, three volunteers worked to cut and plate slices of pie that a half-dozen volunteers delivered to diners at their tables.

The main sponsors of this year's Feast included Southeast Uplift, KitchenCru culinary prep space, New Seasons Markets, Pacific Coast Fruit Company, and Great Harvest Bread – plus dozens of financial donors.

"We are looking for people to come on board and help build up our leadership – anyone who would like to help at this, or our other events, please let us know!" Palmer said.

Find out more about the nonprofit "Gather Portland" organization online – www.gatherportland.org

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