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SnowCap Christmas dinner feeds the needs of the season

HEATHER HILL
THE MID-COUNTY MEMO

Snowcap volunteers ensure no one goes hungry on Christmas; even Santa Claus showed up to help. Santa gives Doris and Kevin Sanchez presents at the inaugural SnowCap Christmas Dinner.
MEMO PHOTO: TIM CURRAN
This Christmas, some of our region’s neediest received an essential gift, thanks to SnowCap Community Charities and volunteers seeking to make a difference. The first event of its kind in east county, the SnowCap Christmas dinner served up a healthy holiday spread on Dec. 25 from 12 to 2 p.m. at the Rockwood United Methodist Church, 17805 S.E. Stark St.

Jeremy Wilebski, director of Dining Services of Chartwells at Mt. Hood Community College, led the efforts to make this dinner a reality. With 15 years of experience in the food industry, Wilebski had long sought to do something more rewarding with his expertise.

“If you just put out the product and somebody eats it, it doesn’t do anything for the community or for the person other than feed them,” he said, describing catering food service in contrast to offering meals to those who would otherwise do without.

Wilebski often discussed volunteer options with his family and friends also in the food business, and this past Thanksgiving he decided “to stop talking about it and actually do something. I had referred people that needed help at my work (to SnowCap) so I was familiar with what their organization was all about. So we just called them and volunteered.”

Wilebski brought 12 volunteers to the annual SnowCap Thanksgiving event run by retired Pastor Bruce Montgomery. The experience inspired him to offer his catering know-how, professional equipment and industry connections to help SnowCap and its patrons fill the void on Christmas, a holiday that some experience as the coldest and loneliest time of year.

Santa makes the rounds at the inaugural SnowCap Christmas Dinner held last month. He poses with one of the many families served Christmas dinner at Rockwood United Methodist Church in east Multnomah County. From left, Sandra Sievila, Janelle Crawford, five-year-old Samantha and four-year-old Matthew Hamilton.
MEMO PHOTO: TIM CURRAN
Though Montgomery supervised this event, Judy Alley, executive director of SnowCap, observed, “It takes about all of what (Montgomery) can do just to get the food and the volunteers for Thanksgiving. We never had done one for Christmas, but (Wilebski) is really taking the lead on it.”

With help from Chartwells and its vendors, Wilebski collected food independent of SnowCap’s donated warehouse stock, mindful that “they need to be able to service their people with that food” after the holiday. By taking the reins to provide a traditional turkey dinner while his family and friends volunteered by his side, Wilebski sought to make a personal connection often lost in the food business by “feeding people who really need it.”

SnowCap, located behind the Rockwood United Methodist Church, feeds thousands of our neighborhood’s hungriest year-round. Food can be picked up Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon, mostly staffed by volunteers. Founded in 1967 by a coalition of 25 churches to answer the needs of those living beyond the reach of downtown Portland facilities, SnowCap provides food and clothing to residents from 82nd Avenue east to the Clackamas County border.

Though the organization customarily hosts holiday meals at many of its participating churches, this is the first event held on Christmas day itself. “This is just a Christmas day gift to make sure that everybody who is single or maybe without family can come together,” Alley said.

In addition, Santa made an appearance with gifts to warm the toes of those out in the cold — new socks for everyone present. Sometimes the smallest gifts can be the grandest gestures. The oft-repeated themes of the season: family, food and goodwill to others, are executed differently by everyone who holds them dear. The collaboration of SnowCap, Chartwells, churches, Wilebski and friends exemplifies the best intentions in practice.
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