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Another helping

Although Lee Lehman of Medford lives near Cafe Dejeuner, Thanksgiving was his first time inside the restaurant.  He's walked past the restaurant before, but took one look at the menu before finding the restaurant outside his budget.

"I'd see it and think, 'Someday I'm going to have a special occasion there,' " Lehman said.

His occasion came Wednesday after seeing that the restaurant was offering a free Thanksgiving meal.

"This is gourmet," he told Don Tucker, who was seated with him as the two finished their slices of pumpkin pie, "Even the coffee is gourmet!"

It was the restaurant's seventh free Thanksgiving dinner.

Theresa Sproul, who has managed the restaurant for 20 years, said the idea to hold free Thanksgiving dinners at the restaurant came to her in a dream in 2008. She shared the idea with owner Terry Swenson and restaurant staff, and a tradition borne out of the great recession began. 

The restaurant took a hiatus from the annual feast in 2014 so staff could spend time with their families on Thanksgiving, but Sproul said discontinuing the tradition didn't feel right to her and the restaurant staff.

"We had sort of an empty feeling," Sproul said.

"We said, 'Wow, we kind of missed what we were doing,' " Swenson said.

As diners walked past Cafe Dejeuner's full parking lot on East Main Street, some were in disbelief that the restaurant's meal was free.  

The meal is possible in part thanks to donations from Food Service of America, Cash and Carry, the Central Point Rotary Club and the local Pepsi Bottling Group. A donation jar was also placed near the door.

Sproul anticipated 150 to 250 people would enjoy a free dinner from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. that day. Kitchen manager Terry Turman said the restaurant had prepared 12 turkeys, 75 pounds of potatoes, 50 pounds of steamed carrots and 16 pumpkin pies.

"It feels good," Turman said. "I'm just glad to help people out."

The meal's size isn't different from a typical catering job, according to Turman, but he enjoys his role helping people out on this day.

"It just makes me happy to see the happy faces out there," Turman said.

Just before noon, the restaurant drew in people from a variety of walks, some seemingly down on their luck, families who didn't want to cook and others who'd otherwise be by themselves on the holiday. 

It was Donald Cardin's third Thanksgiving at the restaurant. The Medford resident said he keeps returning because of the restaurant's homey environment and the cheerful atmosphere of the diners in the restaurant.

 "It makes you feel like you're home for Thanksgiving," Cardin said.

He joined a friend for an impromptu meal together at the restaurant.

"I heard yesterday that they were having it again. I texted him, and 10 minutes later he's tapping on my window," Cardin said.

Cardin said he likes to spend his Thanksgivings and Christmases enjoying as many community meals as he can.

"I'm a single guy. I got no family or nothin'," Cardin said.

It was the first community dinner for employee Phoebe Parker-Shames, who volunteered at the restaurant.

"This is a holiday that a lot of people celebrate with their families, and it's really important to expand that sense of family," Parker-Shames said.

—Reach reporter Nick Morgan at 541-776-4471 or nmorgan@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @MTCrimeBeat.

Three year-old William Hukill enjoys a Thanksgiving pie following dinner at Cafe Dejeuner Thursday. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell photos
Don Tucker, right, and Lee Lehman have coffee and a welcome Thanksgiving pie following dinner at Café Dejeuner Thursday. Mail Tribune / Bob Pennell