Oak Harbor feast 'started with a few guys and some beers'




Posted on November 28, 2013 at 6:54 PM

Updated Friday, Nov 29 at 12:23 AM

It is the deep fryer to the great American melting pot. Oak Harbor's Community Harvest fries and roasts 200 turkeys and smokes 700 pounds of ham for a Thanksgiving feast befitting this working class community.

"It's like backyard cooking for an aircraft carrier," said executive chef Scott Fraser, of Frasers Gourtmet Hideaway.

The 4,000 free meals were handed out Thanksgiving Day at the Elks Lodge, another 1,000 were delivered to cops, grocery workers, emergency dispatcers, hospital workers and the eldery.

And while the food is outstanding, that isn't what this is all about. Community is the main course.

"We have people that are poor. We have people that are rich. We have two people who met here and actually got married," said organizer Scott Fisher.

It all started 12 years ago when local deli owner Keith Bartlett and some buddies were having a few beers and wanted to do something to bring this military town together in the wake of 9/11.  The goal wasn't just to feed the poor or homeless. It was to nourish the entire community.

Everyone is welcome here to volunteer or just to eat a free meal. And just about everyone turns out. Three doctors from Whidbey General Hospital carved up turkeys.

"Surgery takes on a whole new meaning when you're doing this," joked Dr. Paul Zaveruha.

Judge Bill Hawkins doled out dollops of mashed potatoes instead of justice to Jeff Pangburn, a local homeless man, whom the judge knew by name. 

Addicts sat next to the elderly, the privileged next to the poor. All of them broke bread as part of an extended family.

"I'm glad to see the community coming together because we're not a community if no one helps out," said Pangburn.

The purpose, organizers say, is to let everyone in Oak Harbor know they are valued. Vera Ann Olsen celebrated her 100th Thanksgiving with her family to a round of applause, while an elderly man sat eating by himself. He was quickly spotted and joined by a young woman dressed as a clown. The two were soon laughing and exchanging stories like a father and daughter.

"This is why we are here," said orgaizer Jack Stiltz. "We want to build this community up and bring people together."

Founder Keith Bartlett died on Thanksgiving Day three years into this project. Each year since it has gotten bigger and better, now with 350 volunteers and a budget of $17,000 -- all of it donated from the community.

"And to think this all started with a few friends having a few beers," said TJ Fisher, another one of the legion of volunteers. "We'd love for other cities to do this. Any town can. You've just gotta have the heart."

Oak Harbor organizers are happy to teach other communities how to get started. They're also accepting donations and volunteers for next year's feast. Anyone interested should contact them at 360-240-9338 or at Bay Printing 1131 SE Ely Street, Oak Harbor, 98277.