Even though lunch isn't served at the Cherry Blossom Loaves and Fishes Center until noon, by 10 a.m. hundreds of hopeful diners were already crowded into the East Portland Community Center's long hallway Monday, March 31.
Many of those cued up said they were puzzled by the waiting line. 'I usually come here on Mondays for lunch,' Mildred Frankel said. 'I'm surprised by the all the people; I didn't know that (former President) Bill Clinton was coming here today.'
Regulars get priority seating
Hillary Clinton for President campaign workers were at the head of that line, screening media personnel and guests. Center volunteers, stationed at the entrance of the dining room, did their best to make sure their regular clients got a seat for lunch; visitors were put on a waiting list.
'In addition to our regular clients,' said Bennett Bailey, Cherry Blossom's manager, 'we worked to accommodate a large number of guests. Some of them were invited by Hillary's campaign staff.'
Typically, Bailey said, they serve 120 clients on an average Monday. 'But today, we served 202. We had to turn away quite a few guests for the safety of our clients. They come first.'
Lunch waits for no one
By 10:45 a.m. the dining room was filled, as those seated waited for Bill Clinton's scheduled 11 a.m. arrival.
'I think it's great,' said Alta Gaylord, as she waited for lunch. 'It's time - or maybe a little past time - that a political candidate takes us seriously. People in our age group vote, therefore, why not come and talk to the older people?'
When the kitchen was notified that Clinton would be delayed, the center's volunteers and workers began lunch service just before noon.
Barbara Roberts' warm-up
After the roasted turkey main course was served, and when most diners had finished their meal, there was stir of activity as former Oregon Gov. Barbara Roberts walked to the podium on the east end of the room.
Roberts gave the warm-up speech and filled time as Bill Clinton traveled from a meeting with Democratic Party 'super-delegates.' Roberts wound down her speech when two Secret Service agents entered the room - followed by Bill Clinton.
Bill pitches for Hillary
Wasting no time, Clinton dove into his stump speech: 'I'm here campaigning on behalf of my wife, Sen. Hillary Clinton. I am hoping you'll vote for her. I hope you'll vote for her for several reasons.'
Clinton said that his wife has a record of supporting health care and senior citizen issues. He drew applause with his statement that he and his wife believe in 'supporting the senior centers, supporting the integrity of Social Security, supporting the idea that we should constantly work to improve the quality of life and health care of our citizens who cannot.'
The majority of those present appeared simply to be politely interested; a few appeared to be enthusiastic Hillary Clinton supporters.
The former president used each of Hillary Clinton's campaign slogans, artfully woven into his remarks, during his 14-minute stump speech.
Clinton meets and greets
Instead of being whisked away at the end of his talk, Clinton lingered to shake hands, sign autographs and talk with citizens for 20 minutes following his formal presentation.
Members of the press were sternly advised to say inside a fenced-off 'corral' at the far end of the room. However, within minutes, Bill Clinton was facing a half-dozen TV cameras, answering questions posed by local television reporters, as the crowd pressed in.
During and after Clinton's talk, campaign workers refused to allow diners to leave the room, citing security issues.
However, many of those who came to dine said the inconvenience caused by Clinton's visit was balanced by the thrill of seeing an international figure come to speak - even if only to make a campaign talk. The best part, they said: Meeting Bill Clinton in person.
Good publicity for Cherry Blossom
From his standpoint, Bailey said the event went well for the staff and volunteers at the Cherry Blossom Loaves and Fishes Center. 'In addition to the dining room, we also prepared 250 lunches for Meals-on-Wheels clients.'
He added, 'I hope the publicity will attract volunteers who will help deliver meals. We've had a 20 percent growth in Meals-on-Wheels clients this year. We are in big need of drivers.'