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Homebound seniors in the area can receive a traditional holiday meal on Thanksgiving.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Hanh Neuman scoops coleslaw at the Meals on Wheels People headquarters in Multnomah Village. For the last 30 years, the nonprofit has been preparing Thanksgiving dinners to homebound seniors in the area.

For the last 30 years, Meals on Wheels workers and volunteers have been preparing Thanksgiving dinners to homebound seniors in the area.

The two-container meal includes roast turkey with gravy, cranberry relish, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, peas, pearl onions, and pumpkin pie. Those meals are prepped at the beginning of the week at the Portland Meals on Wheels People headquarters kitchen in Multnomah Village, which is also one of the pick-up sites for the nonprofit group that provides Meals on Wheels services for most of the Portland area.

The other pick up sites include the Double Tree Hotel in Portland, at 1000 N.E. Multnomah St.; the Ambleside Center in Gresham; the Forest Grove Center; and the Luepke Center in Vancouver, Washington.

"If you're going to be home alone on Thanksgiving, (then) we're going to bring you a turkey dinner," said Julie Piper Finley with the Meals on Wheels People. "Because if you are 87 years old, you live by yourself and you're getting Meals on Wheels, (then) you're not going to be able to make your own turkey or pumpkin pie."

The nonprofit plans to deliver over 2,000 hot meals to seniors this Thanksgiving. The meals will also include a special treat other than pumpkin pie: homemade placemats and greeting cards.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - The meals for homebound seniors will also include a special treat other than pumpkin pie inside: homemade placemats and greeting cards.

Throughout the year, children in the area draw different Thanksgiving-themed designs on thin paper resembling placemats. Piper Finley remembers one woman on her delivery route years ago showing her placemats she kept from the previous year.

"For so many of our homebound seniors, the only people they see is the Meals on Wheels driver," said Piper Finley. "And that's their only contact with the outside world."

Back in the kitchen, about 20 workers in lime-green shirts and jackets form assembly lines to make, package and chill the meals before they head out for delivery. They're also working with fewer hands, said Piper Finley, because a lot of corporate volunteers are taking time off before Thanksgiving.

"Just gotta get done," said Meals on Wheels pre-plate supervisor Lamont Woods. "We got a really experienced crew. They've been here and seen it all for a few years in a row to what's coming, so we're able to jump on it."

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Workers at the Meals on Wheels People headquarters prepare Thanksgiving dinners this week in Multnomah Village.

Woods has over 20 years of experience in the food business, and this is his second year working for Meals on Wheels, but his favorite part of it all is helping the community, he said.

"Just the idea of everybody coming together and getting the meals ready," added Woods. "And being able to get out to the homebound people who can't get out, but are still able to get a nice hot lunch."

Due to health reasons, the nonprofit usually delivers cold meals to homebound seniors with heating instructions attached. But Thanksgiving is an exception. After the meals have been warmed up at the closest pick-up site, the nonprofit has its more than 500 drivers take the shortest possible route to deliver each meal, helping to ensure the dinners stay at an optimal temperature, said Piper Finley.

"A regular Meals on Wheels route is about 10 stops, but we limit it to four for Thanksgiving," she added. "We also want to let allow those drivers time to interact with the seniors and talk with them a little bit. And if you have a gigantic route and you want to make sure the meals stay hot, (then) you don't have time to do that."

When asked if it's difficult to get volunteer drivers to deliver on Thanksgiving, Piper Finley said, "To be honest, this is the one day of the year we never have to scramble for volunteers. For some people, it's a family tradition. They may have started when their kids were little, and (now) the kids are coming back from college and they still want to deliver."

The nonprofit is now taking signups for volunteers to help out next year during Thanksgiving. As for the meals are delivered this week, Piper Finley hopes the seniors can get a little taste of nostalgia with every bite they take on Thanksgiving.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Ling Hu watches packages of prepared food travel along a conveyor belt at the Meals on Wheels People headquarters in Multnomah Village. The nonprofit plans to deliver over 2,000 hot meals to seniors on Thanksgiving.


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