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Volunteers serve 4th annual Thanksgiving 'Feast for Southeast'

by: DAVID F. ASHTON - In the 2013 Feast for Southeast dining room, Taylor Wideman and Sam Coy bring in salads and cranberry sauce.When, more than four years ago, Rob Selva had a dream about serving a community Thanksgiving Day dinner to the Inner Southeast Portland community, he had no idea that it would turn into an annual celebration – supported by and enjoyed by so many people, including his wife, Carolina. Everyone is welcome at this table – rich and poor; no matter their circumstances.

The “Feast for Southeast” slogan – “A grassroots project for the community, by the community” – has resonated with many individual volunteers and sponsors. For 2013, the community project was gearing up for 650 guests, at the Mt. Scott Community Center.

Maria Holmes told THE BEE that this was the second “Feast for Southeast” dinner in which she had participated. “Last year, I was the Social Media Manager and Marketer. This year I was given the opportunity to work in a different capacity – as the Program Director [the overall organizer]. I’m really excited to be here and to be doing this.”

While the dinner itself takes place between 1 and 4 pm on Thanksgiving Day, Holmes revealed that he and the volunteers start getting ready for it in late summer. “We’re probably the only people who are intently focused on preparing a Thanksgiving Day dinner in August! But, that is when we have to begin, to be able to create and put on a dinner on this scale.”

As planning began, the twelve “staff of volunteers” held planning meetings and divided up duties. “Our fund-raising started right around that time, as well as making our connections with others who support our project,” Holmes said.

In addition to the financial and in-kind sponsors, there are individuals, families, classrooms, and businesses who sponsor individual tables.

And, all of the food served is made “from scratch” – which meant the cooking crew started working on the Monday before Thanksgiving Day. That’s four days of preparation! “It’s exciting for us, because we’ve gotten the help of local professional chefs, led by a good friend of mine, Chef Josh Daily.”

All the peeling, chopping, and other food preparation took place at the Micro Mercantes commercial kitchen at Hacienda Community Development Corporation, loaned to the project for the purpose without cost. Nothing had been cooked at that point.

“Then, starting on Thanksgiving morning at 6 am, the chefs and cooks met at the Warner Pacific College food service kitchen. With the help of their food service company, Sodexo, they started cooking the dinner.”

Just before time to serve, the food was put in chafing trays, loaded into “hot box” carriers, and driven over the Mt. Scott Community Center, where it was wheeled into the tiny kitchen.

With all of the hot food on hand at last, and ready to serve, Chef Josh Daily heaved a sigh of relief – even though catering big dinners is part of his professional life. He’s been catering and doing banquets for The Painted Lady in Newberg, and for Riverside Golf and Country Club, when he hasn’t been overseeing food preparation on North Portland’s famed Radio Room Restaurant.

“We’ve prepared 250 pounds of turkey and 150 pounds of ham; we cut up 250 pounds of russet potatoes,” Daily said. “We’ll also be serving maple-roasted carrots, dressing, gravy, and cranberries.”

Dessert at the feast included pie – at least a dozen fresh pumpkin pies, coming from “His Bakery” – just a few blocks south of the Mt. Scott Community Center, on S.E. 72nd Avenue.

“I’m so glad that a friend connected me with Rob Selva; I instantly connected with the mission,” this year’s organizer, Maria Holmes, said of the feast’s originator – only minutes before the front doors opened to let the waiting guests in. “I am happy and pleased, and feel blessed, to be asked to be on this team and be of service, along with our dozens of volunteers who make the ‘Feast for Southeast’ happen.”

Sponsors for the 2013 Feast for Southeast dinner included Charlie’s Produce, Concero Technology, Great Harvest Bread Company of Clackamas, Local IBEW 48, McCollum Auto Body, Micro Mercantes at Hacienda CDC, Mt. Scott Community Center, NW Ambulatory Surgical Center, Oregon Culinary Institute, Pieper Café, Pinkleton’s Curious Caramel Corn, PPB Sunshine Division, Sign Advantage Inc., Sodexo, Starbucks, Warner Pacific College, Zing Toys, the Brentwood-Darlington Neighborhood Association, the Foster-Powell Neighborhood Association, the Mt. Scott-Arleta Neighborhood Association, and the Woodstock Neighborhood Association.