It is a tradition which has truly stood the test of time.
The Spirit of Oakdale committee is in full force for the 23rd year as they work toward putting on the annual free community meal hosted each Thanksgiving at the Gene Bianchi Community Center on Thanksgiving Day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
During the course of its 23 years, the event has weathered community growth as well as a recession. Through it all, they have maintained a core of dedicated volunteers from planning, to preparation and service the day of the actual meal. More than two decades later, volunteers never seem to be on the list of needs for this dedicated crew.
“We don’t even need to meet anymore, because we all know what we’re doing,” event co-founder Vickie Thompson said of the event’s planning committee. “Wednesday night there’s probably 40 people working in the kitchen and doing all the prep and on Thanksgiving there’s another 40.”
While they may not have a shortage of volunteers, each year one month prior to the event there seems to be a consistent need for turkeys and desserts.
“We have 40 turkeys,” Thompson said of their current inventory. “We need at least 80.”
“The last couple of years we’ve had at least 80 or 90 turkeys,” committee member Bill Houk said, noting last year 1,100 free meals were served during the three-hour period.
“If they bring them frozen early enough we can bring them down here and people can come get them and cook them,” he added.
‘Here’ is the local H-B, where Mike Bacigalupi offers space for the event to store frozen, as well as the cooked turkeys prior to the Wednesday night preparations.
Houk and Thompson both shared the need for proactive community involvement in the way of turkey preparation, a true team spirit. Can’t afford to buy a turkey to donate? No problem, one can stop by H-B and take one home to prep and cook. No time to cook a turkey, yet want to help? A frozen or fresh turkey donation might be the perfect fit.
But why stop there? Turkeys aren’t the only area where the Spirit of Oakdale hopes to benefit from community generosity. To date there is also need for pies, toys, as well as monetary donations.
To feed the likes of 1100 diners, both at the community center as well as home delivery offered by CAPS, the group will prep 80 to 90 turkeys, 300 to 400 pounds of potatoes and 300 to 400 pounds of yams.
“It’s my Thanksgiving dinner I would have if my parents were alive,” Thompson said of the meal. “We really don’t need people to bring us turkeys on Thanksgiving Day, desserts, sure ... that we can handle. The turkeys we need ahead of time so we can prep them.”
The toy donations being sought will be provided to the youngsters who come in to eat, as they never go away empty handed.
“This is a community event,” Thompson continued. “We don’t need volunteers, but everyone is more than welcome to come and see what it’s all about. We don’t serve the meal based on need; we serve it for the community.”
Those living alone, families, the elderly … all are welcome.
“Not everyone has a place to go on Thanksgiving,” Thompson said. “We want to make sure they do.”
Thompson and her crew have also placed 113 collection boxes at the four Oakdale Joint Unified elementary school sites for canned food donations. Each year Spirit of Oakdale sends families in need home with a bag of groceries, as well as allows each child to pick out a toy. All of this is done by donation and community generosity.
As if all this weren’t enough, the group of volunteers has partnered with Bachi and H-B to raise a little money and help add to their community toy chest. On Monday, Nov. 21, the bar will host a Monday night football event with proceeds benefitting the Spirit of Oakdale. A meal will be offered during the game for $10 per person or $7 with a toy donation.
The committee acknowledged the community for always doing their part to make sure all is provided for to put on the holiday meal.
Persons interested in making monetary donations may send checks to Spirit of Oakdale, PO Box 1104, Oakdale, CA 95361. Questions may be directed to Vickie Thompson at 606-3893 or fellow co-founder Mickey Peabody at 471-9859.