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Volunteers toil, so Inner Southeast can enjoy Thanksgiving feast

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - Cooper Long, age 7, is a student at Creative Science School Montavilla. He's in second grade.What if people came together to serve Thanksgiving dinner to anyone who desired it, regardless of their finances or their station in life?

This was the question that kept running through the head of Inner Southeast resident Roberto Selva in 2010, he recalled. It caused him to create what is now known as “Feast for Southeast” – held annually at Portland Parks & Recreation’s (PP&R) Mt. Scott Community Center.

Stepping inside for the 2012 feast showed us that this public dining experience has clearly matured.

Although it’s not promoted simply as a free dinner for the down-and-out, many of the patrons this year acknowledged that they wouldn’t have had a hot meal on Thanksgiving, had it not been for this banquet.

“We brought in a co-director, Louisa Lakos, to help us expand and grow it,” Selva told THE BEE at the banquet. “We are in growth mode – with a staff of 14, who are all very passionate about what we do.”

The Feast has many contributors, but Selva started by thanking Chef Instructor Josh Hobson of Oregon Culinary Institute for helping coordinate the food service and the cooking. From the planning through the serving of the dinner, more than 200 people had volunteered, he said.

“It’s quite an undertaking,” Selva mused. “Along with all the trimmings and dessert, we’re serving about 285 pounds of turkey and about 165 pounds of ham – to very close to 500 guests, this year.”

New this year were “table tents”, each inscribed with a donor’s name, and a statement for about what they’re thankful for.

“We found an easy, tangible way for families in the neighborhood to be a part of Feast for Southeast,” Selva smiled. “Sponsoring a table helps us offset the cost of food and supplies.”

One table sponsor was seven-year-old Cooper Long, second-grader in Montavilla’s Creative Science School. After hearing about the project, he saved up his money for six months to become a table sponsor at this year’s feast.

Emblazoned on Long’s sponsor card were the words, “I am thankful for my whole entire family, even my pets and friends.”

Emil Jackson, dining at the table sponsored by the young man, looked down after he read the card and said, “Isn’t that something. He gave up things he could have had, so we could have something nice to eat here today.”

Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish commented that he, as well as his kids Maria and Chapin, had come to help out. “We looked up places that were serving a Thanksgiving Day meal, and found Mt. Scott to be one of the biggest gatherings. So, we just drove out here and volunteered.”

Looking around the auditorium – temporarily turned into a vast dining room – Fish said, “I am so impressed with the volunteers and the organizers who put on this citizen-run Thanksgiving feast. And I’m proud that they chose to do it here at Mt. Scott Community Center.”

Selva responded, “In addition to our partners and community volunteers, I can’t thank the Community Center enough for letting us host it here.

“And, we’ve had huge support from families in the neighborhood – families, and individual people we don’t know – who have donated monetarily. It really helps us be a viable organization.”

This year’s five “Feast for Southeast” general sponsors were the Oregon Culinary Institute, SE Uplift, the Woodstock UPS Store, Warner Pacific College, and Alice Ott Middle School.

The event had the support of seven neighborhood associations, as well as six families and twenty-three businesses who were “Table Sponsors”.

See the complete listing of sponsors – and learn how you can become involved with this worthy project next year – by going online to: www.feast4southeast.com