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Food needed for free Thanksgiving Peace Meal

The fifth annual Peace Meal community Thanksgiving is just around the corner, and organizers need help to feed an estimated 300 hungry people.

Vanessa and Jason Houk of Southern Oregon Jobs with Justice regularly feed homeless and hungry people in Ashland each week at Pioneer Hall along with other volunteers. This year will be a little different, they said.

Because the Ashland Community Center can’t be used in conjunction with Pioneer Hall this year, they’re going to have to shuffle people into the building between noon and 6 p.m. Thanksgiving day. Food will be served from 2 to 4 p.m., or as long as they have hungry people and food.

Due to the small space they won’t need as many volunteers this year, Vanessa Houk said, so they’ll be directing volunteers to other ways to help and other meals than the Thanksgiving feast.

“People really want to give their time, and we’re not going to turn anyone away, but we’ll be connecting them to other meals,” Vanessa said. “This year we won’t have the space for as many volunteers as last year.”

Anyone who would like to contribute homemade food, Jason Houk said, should coordinate with him on what is needed by calling his cell at 541-841-8341.

People who donate hot prepared food should drop it off as close to 2 p.m. as possible, he said.

To learn about specific dishes that are needed, see the Meal Train page at https://bit.ly/2OdSCAk.

Unprepared food such as potatoes and cans of gravy should be dropped off ahead of time so the team can prep as much as possible before. They also need drinks such as coffee, hot cocoa and cider.

Vanessa said they’ll have hot water dispensers so individual packets of drink mixes work well. They also need cups, cutlery, plates and napkins.

They also encourage donations of warm winter clothes such as coats, thermal underwear, shoes, socks, hats, gloves, as well as sleeping bags, blankets and pillows.

All donations can be dropped off between 1 and 3 p.m. Wednesdays at Pioneer Hall while the Houks prepare food for the Wednesday Peace Meal.

One ongoing tradition they say they are proud of is to have a fourth-grade Walker Elementary class make the centerpieces and decorations for the event.

Vanessa Houk said they expect more people to attend this year, because for the first time in nine years the Phoenix Community Kitchen will not be serving Thanksgiving dinner. Last year volunteers fed about 250 people at the Ashland meal.

“People really have a sense of family at this event,” Vanessa Houk said. “They walk through the doors and drop their backpacks and try to start helping. For me Thanksgiving is such a big family day. It was always chaotic and noisy and wonderful, and Pioneer Hall Thanksgivings are like that. It’s noisy, and people are making friendships and reconnecting with people they haven’t seen in a long while. It’s such a beautiful display of love.”

She said it’s one of the highlights of the year for the organization.

Street Dogs, a nonprofit focused on feeding and providing veterinary care to pets that belong to homeless people, will be at Pioneer Hall from 1 to 2 p.m. Vanessa Houk said.

A lot of the volunteers need food themselves, Jason Houk said, and some have lost someone close to them and need the community around the holidays.

“It makes them see that they do have a family here at Pioneer Hall, and they get such a sense of peace just coming here,” he said.

Several changes have been made to the community meals served during the week by various organizations. The new schedule includes:

Monday: Previously held in Railroad Park, the meal is now at 4:30 p.m. at Rogue Valley Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 87 Fourth St., Ashland.

Tuesday: Uncle Foods Diner, hosted by Peace House, is at 4:30 p.m. at United Methodist Church, 175 N. Main St., Ashland.

Wednesday: Daniel Rueff serves food at Ashland Creek Park at the corner of Oak and Hersey Streets at 4 p.m.

Thursday: Peace Meal at Pioneer Hall. Doors open at 3 p.m. and dinner is served at 5 p.m.

Sunday: Komac Tapp serves his “super stew” around 4:30 p.m. at the Lithia Park gazebo.

No meals are scheduled for Friday and Saturday. Jason Houk said they’re hopeful someone will step up soon and take those days over.

Other free Thanksgiving meals for the homeless in the Rogue Valley, according to the Phoenix Community Kitchen, include:

Compassion Highway Project will sponsor a dinner between noon and 3 p.m. at Medford First United Methodist Church, 607 W. Main St.

Cafe Dejeuner will serve dinner between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. at 1108 E. Main St., Medford.

The Point Pub and Grill, 311 E. Pine St., Central Point, will serve dinner from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. A shuttle from the Medford location, 1345 Center Dr., to the Central Point location will be available.

Contact Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

Lucien King, 9, (right), Ebin King, 13, and Stacy King serve deserts Monday during Ashland's peace meal in Lithia Park. Photo by Denise Baratta