Whiteaker Free Thanksgiving Dinner History
It was November 1974, and a young single mother with four small children was broke with only a money order to cover her rent. Thinking about her kids and the upcoming holiday, she decided to cash in the money order to buy food for a Thanksgiving dinner.
When she couldn’t find anyone who would cash the money order, she turned to the Sheriff’s Department. The officers put out a call for help and contacted a local radio station. The family was blessed with a wonderful dinner because of the generous help of anonymous donors.
In 1978 this mom was doing well. She and a group of her Whiteaker neighbors decided to return the community spirit that had been showered on her four years before. They offered a free Thanksgiving dinner to anyone who needed one. The crowd, some 60 strong, spilled out into the front and back yards. Musicians played, people sang, and the leftovers went home with whoever needed them. Everyone felt great.
The emotions ran so high that the decision to try to do this incredible thing on an annual basis was unanimous. The next year the dinner was held upstairs over a restaurant. The crowd had doubled and the organizers realized that they would need more donations and a larger venue for future dinners. The following year a Eugene church kindly donated their banquet hall and kitchen and some 300 people. The event had grown beyond expectations.
There was a hiatus of several years, and then in 1988, some of the original organizers got together and decided it was time for another dinner. They asked the Whiteaker Elementary School if they could hold the event there and the school principal was enthusiastic. Publicity went out, musicians volunteered to play, donations poured in, and we were off and running again.
Over the years we’ve made many innovations while continuing to offer a high- quality, delicious meal. People appreciate the warm used clothes we give away along with the new socks and gloves donated by local businesses. People can also pick up sleeping bags, blankets, shelter materials, and personal care products at no cost at the dinner.
In 1995 we served more than 1200 people. As the dinner grew, so did the volunteer organization putting it on. In 1996, Whiteaker Community Dinners became a 501 (c) 3 non-profit corporation.
Whiteaker Elementary School has been sold to Lane County Head Start who continues to donate the use of the center.
This event and organization continues to be run by community volunteers who believe in Neighbors Helping Neighbors.