In Eugene, Thanksgiving is not just a holiday for families to spend time together. For many people here it is a day to spend time with the community.

This year, almost 2,500 people congregated at the Whiteaker Community Head Start Center in Eugene for the annual Whitaker Community Thanksgiving Dinner. The free Thanksgiving dinner is a tradition that started in 1978.

A down-on-her-luck, single mother of four received help from several community members to make a Thanksgiving feast possible for her children in 1974. Four years later when she was doing well, she and a group of neighbors in the Whiteaker community decided to give back.

The dinner is made a reality each year thanks to volunteers and donations. Beyond food, donations included sleeping bags, blankets, hygiene products, gloves, rain gear and other winter essentials.

More than 600 volunteers helped with the event this year, about 30 of whom were students from the Culinary Department at Lane Community College. Clive Wanstall, chef and instructor at Lane, oversaw the culinary department’s involvement with the event.

Wanstall said all his volunteers are culinary students at Lane, the department itself was not directly involved with the event. Wanstall placed all the food orders and arranged the logistics of meal preparation.

“We started prepping the weekend before Thanksgiving. We spent roughly about 16 hours of prep between the days of Saturday and Sunday,” Christopher Dunphy, culinary student, said.  

Volunteers had their work cut out for them, separating turkey meat, peeling potatoes and prepping vegetables for stir-fry. A total of 1,500 pounds of turkey and 2,000 pounds of potatoes and other vegetables were prepared for the dinner. Other than the desserts, the culinary students prepared all the food for the event.

On Thanksgiving Day, culinary students arrived early in the morning to finish cooking and ran food to the tables during dinnertime, providing a wonderful dinner service for the community.

“They’d be so thankful for you just being there cooking some of that food that they all got to eat. It makes me happy,” Dunphy said about the attendees.