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Cornelius Community Dinner brings volunteers, guests together

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - (Left to right) Oni Giron, Maria Hernandez and Angel Salgado pass out desserts at the Cornelius Community Dinner Nov. 21.Bob Cate was on his way to volunteer at the Cornelius Community Dinner last Saturday, Nov. 21, when he spotted a man sleeping on a bench in front of a Latino grocery store on the city’s main drag.

Cate, a Hillsboro resident, went up to the man and asked if he’d be interested in a free, hot Thanksgiving-style meal.

It was a lucky wakeup call for Jose Andrade Castró, a homeless man who sleeps on Cornelius park benches and spends most of his days walking from Fred Meyer on the city’s east side to the 7-Eleven on the west — then back again, taking what handouts he can get from local shelters and good Samaritans.

“That was today?” said Castró, who had heard about the dinner and planned to go but lost track of time.

This is the second year for the expanded version of the free community meal Centro Cultural had previously hosted. NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Father Jim Wright of Holy Cross in Hillsboro prays with Nickie Wright (foreground) and Paula Ummel before digging into their meals during the Cornelius Community Dinner.

Fully buttressed through community-wide donations and nearly 60 volunteers from seven different agencies, this year’s dinner served about 400 people, said Lt. Gene Moss of the Washington County Sheriff’s Office — the same as last year, although many of the diners were present primarily to volunteer but ate dinner before leaving.

Organizers had expected at least 200 more diners, partly because last year they held it on a weekday and this year they thought the Saturday timing would be more convenient for people.

The leftover food didn’t go to waste, however, because Cate and his wife brought it to the Hillsboro Sonrise Church for the Light My Way ministries program for convicts and their families.

NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: CHASE ALLGOOD - Washington County Sheriff Pat Garrett takes a break from his dinner to talk with community members.Moss, who serves as Cornelius police chief, said the dinner is not solely for homeless people or seniors but is meant to help who it can.

“It’s really about outreach,” said Moss, “with an emphasis on the people who may not have an opportunity for a family dinner otherwise.”

When he arrived, Castró faced two culinary options: a traditional American turkey dinner with rolls, mashed potatoes and gravy. and a Mexican version with molé sauce and beans.

Speaking to the News-Times through an interpreter, Castró explained that he fled to the U.S. 10 years ago to escape drug-related gang violence in Mexico and ended up in the Forest Grove/Cornelius area, where he picked up odd jobs doing roofing and painting.

But after developing his own alcohol and drug addictions, Castró found himself destitute and jobless. With no family or friends in the area, he began living on the streets.

Although he arrived alone, Castro enjoyed eating and talking with other people, then returned to the streets after finishing his meal. He would walk to a local shelter and look for a bed, he said, hoping for the best.

Latinos make up 52 percent of the city’s population and seemed to account for about half of the diners there last Saturday.

Cornelius resident Elizabeth Flores enjoyed her dinner with her children Esteban and Yahaira, and her sister Jiszette.

“It’s nice, and very welcoming,” said Elizabeth, who also attended last year’s dinner. “It’s the only time we eat turkey. For Thanksgiving, we usually just eat chicken tamales.”

“It’s a team sport,” Moss said. “It takes all of us to get these kinds of things off the ground.”

“It’s a community spirit we’re very fortunate to enjoy,” said Cornelius Mayor Jef Dalin, whose wife and son also volunteered to help serve food and clean up tables through Venturing, a youth development program of the Boy Scouts of America.

Venturing Crewmember Andrew Olson, one of the group’s adult leaders, was happy to contribute his time.

“It gives that good feeling that you’ve done something for the community,” Olson said. “And it shows the community that there are people out there who are willing to help others.”

Lake Oswego resident Caleb Downing heard about the event through Cornelius’ Sonrise Church, which he attends every Sunday. (NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: TRAVIS LOOSE) - Jose Andrade CastrÍ, who is homeless, went to Cornelius Elementary School for a hot meal Saturday.

While he usually handles service and outreach programs as a Safeway service operations manager, on Saturday he helped serve food with his wife Amanda and their children Graden, Elijah and Rosemary.

“Everybody did something tonight,” Downing said. “It’s for the community.”

And Downing’s children weren’t the only youth involved. Even Rocky Brown’s Boy Scout Troop helped out.

“They’re learning to serve others,” Brown said. “This is a great way for them to experience volunteering and helping others without expectation for monetary compensation.”

“It’s not about making yourself feel better for volunteering,” Cate said. “It’s about being a light in a dark world.”

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