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Second Feast for Southeast feeds hundreds for free

by: David F. Ashton The Sommer family – dad Joel, Johathan and Nico and Isaac, and mom Sabrina – say they enjoy celebrating Thanksgiving with the whole community.

On Thanksgiving Day, Roberto Selva watched - as folks from all walks of life, from all over Inner Southeast Portland, came streaming into the Mt. Scott Community Center, starting at 2 pm.

'This is our second annual 'Feast for Southeast',' Selva smiled, as the dining tables in the community center's large hall filled up. 'We gained a lot of experience last year, which has made this a little bit easier. Last year's struggles and headaches served as stepping stones for us, as we worked on this year's event.'

The 'neighborhood-wide dinner' idea started for Selva, many years ago, as 'a dream for making a connection with people in Southeast Portland'. But after he mentioned the dream aloud last year - family, friends, and folks from the Lifehouse Church he attends at that community center, got together to make the dream a reality.

'We have a planning team, and also we have help for many organizations and individuals,' Selva acknowledged. 'From large organizations, such as Warner-Pacific College, and four neighborhood associations, to the Oregon Culinary Institute, and right down to individuals - it's turned out to be collaboration among a lot of people.

'In total, as many as 100 volunteers put it on - from the canvassing of neighborhoods with invitations, through the cleanup tonight.'

The food brought to the community dinner looked and smelled sumptuous. Volunteers served up heaping portions of spiral-cut ham and roast turkey with all the trimmings - including cranberry sauce and beverages - without cost or obligation. Instead of being subjected to a preaching service, attendees were serenaded by professional musicians playing popular music.

Unlike 'soup kitchens' which help out the poor and downtrodden, Selva said, this feast is for everyone. 'Young, old, families, youth - it's a dinner where we welcome everyone - and as you see, people are coming. It's truly a community meal, open to everyone.'

Pantry and 'toy chest' added

Tom Vice, Pastor of Lifehouse Church (www.lifehouseportland.com), used the PA system to remind diners that a food pantry and free toys were available in the community center's gym for those in need.

As he walked with us over to the gym, which was well-stocked with tables laden with preserved food for those who needed it to take home with them, Vice explained the additional benefits provided to people at this year's dinner.

'With the economy being what it is, we decided to add preserved food, some clothing, and toys this year,' Vice explained. 'The Lents Commons Coffeehouse helps us by collecting hats and socks for adults and children. People from the church brought a number of new toys to give away. And, Mt. Scott Presbyterian Church helped us secure the bread, and the canned and dried goods.'

Providing some Holiday cheer for the disadvantaged, Vice said, 'is part of our expression of our faith - caring for and serving our neighbors, right here.'

As Selva was saying goodbye, he added, 'I love my community, and I want to give back to this area. The idea and goal for 'Feast for Southeast' is simple: To bring neighbors and guests, from all of the areas and walks of life, together. We call it 'A grassroots project for the community, by the community'.'

After the event, Selva reported they'd served 315 guests this year: 'That's almost 100 more guests than last year.'

Sponsors of the event - which was partly financed with a Southeast Uplift Neighborhood Small Grant from Portland's Office of Neighborhood Involvement - included the Woodstock, Brentwood-Darlington, Foster-Powell, and Mt. Scott-Arleta Neighborhood Associations, as well as (in alphabetical order) Charlie's Produce, Food Services of America, Fred Meyer of Clackamas, Great Harvest Bread of Clackamas, Impact Northwest, Lents Commons Coffeehouse, Lifehouse Church, Mezza Middle Eastern Cuisine in Woodstock, Oregon Culinary Institute, Portland Parks and Recreation and the Mt. Scott Community Center, ROSE Community Development, Inc., SP Provisions, Starbucks Coffee, Trader Joe's of Clackamas, UPS Store of Woodstock, and Warner Pacific College.