Thanksgiving Banquet Back In Big Ways

Volunteers serve delicious food during the Community Thanksgiving Banquet at the Deer Park High School.

An outreach that began twenty years ago by one big-hearted woman came back after two years with open arms and a goal to fill the tummies. This event blessed our community with a homemade meal where people could “taste” that they matter.

The free community Thanksgiving Banquet was an immense success this year. Crews cooked up and served fresh hot turkey with all the trimmings for neighbors in Deer Park Chattaroy, Loon Lake, Clayton, Riverside, Springdale, Nine Mile, and the William’s Valley areas. Organizers aimed for 700 meals but ended up serving about 800 in a radius of approximately 20 miles, with Deer Park as its launching point. The community gathered on the Saturday before Thanksgiving to share conversation, laughs, and gratitude. 

Prepping for The Banquet
Several obstacles had to be overcome for this event to occur after the two-year break due to COVID. Many of the items served or used in the recipes were difficult to find with current supply chain issues; some essential items had even been discontinued. Volunteers found some great options, but it still required much searching and creativity. Some things that were previously available locally had to be ordered online. Package sizes had also “shrunk” so workers had to do extra work to determine quantities to be ordered. Laura Swafford, one of the main organizers, stated, “Of course the cost of everything was much higher, but that did not stop the generosity poured out to see that the banquet happened this year, at last. After two years of having to cancel due to restrictions of COVID, many people were determined to go beyond all limits to make the Thanksgiving Banquet happen for sure.”

One significant change this year was that Cyrus O’Leary, who had donated pies for the meal for more than ten years, was acquired by Sara Lee Frozen Bakery during the pandemic, thus ending their association and support of the event. Thankfully, Bean and Pie of Coeur d’Alene stepped in to provide delicious pies for the table at cost, which made it possible for organizers to fit this dessert into the budget.

Sharing With The Community
Everything went smoothly during the event. Volunteer groups such as the Miss Deer Park Royalty and Girl Scouts pitched in there were more volunteers than were signed up on the day. Many folks who had helped in years past wanted to deliver meals or serve pie just because they loved being part of this gathering of folks, food, fellowship, and friendship. 

The ongoing passion of the banquet organizers is to offer a traditional homemade, delicious meal for those in the community who may not have the resources or family to enjoy Thanksgiving on their own. With this mission in mind, volunteers served meals at the high school on the day of the banquet and delivered many to low-income, shut-ins, senior citizens, the disabled, and those sick that day. They also took food to on-duty firefighters, paramedics, police officers, and other service workers that could not attend. 

Samantha Shively, one of the ongoing volunteers for this event, shared, “Helping with the community Thanksgiving banquet is truly one of the highlights of my year. I look forward to it each and every time. Because of COVID, we haven’t been able to host it since our last time in 2019, so this year felt even more special and it was such a joy to see the community come together again after being distant for so long. This event is truly an “all are welcome” place that brings together Deer Park residents of all ages, incomes and stages of life. I love the warm feeling of simply providing a delicious meal for anyone and everyone and the spirit of Thankfulness is felt all throughout the night. After the event was over and we were cleaning up, a young man came up to me and told me how incredibly thankful he was for the delicious dinner and that it really meant a lot to him and his family to be able to come and enjoy such a fun time. That, to me, is the exact reason why we do it and why I can’t wait to keep coming back year after year. We hope to see even more smiling faces and full bellies next year! “ 

History of The Community Thanksgiving Banquet
In 2002, a small business owner, Leona Sargent, who ran a cafe in Loon Lake, heard that her regular customers would have nowhere to go for Thanksgiving dinner. So she decided to open her cafe on the Saturday before Thanksgiving and serve as many customers who showed up for a meal like the one she planned for her sons and daughters, her grandkids, and their families for free.  

Sargent made and served roasted turkey with gravy and cranberry, along with sides of mashed potatoes, fruit salad, fresh rolls with butter, sweet potato casserole, and pumpkin pie. She made stuffing from scratch with bread crumbs that she dried herself. 

Sargent wanted the people to ‘taste’ that they were not just invited but welcomed, valued, and treated special just like family.

She gave away 125 plates of food that year and for several years after that. But, as her cafe could not hold the growing crowd, she asked that others in the community get involved, and they began searching for larger venues to give away a Thanksgiving dinner flavored with love. As a result, the Banquet has grown from 125 to 800 meals, maxing out their volunteers’ capacity and location. Previously, they served up the homemade style meal at the old Community Center across from City Hall, as well as several of the smaller Deer Park schools, and then for many years at Deer Park High School, where it was this year.

Leona has since passed on and is no longer with us, but her dream will continue to live on through this sensational community event.

Sadly, many other faithful volunteers have also passed on. They all served selflessly for many years to bring a warm cup of coffee and good gravy to hungry folks. But they will be well remembered and much missed.

What Community Thanksgiving Banquet Organizers Are Grateful For This Year

They are grateful for…

  • The chance to bring smiles to peoples’ faces and share the joy of togetherness with neighbors who have known much isolation and loneliness.
  • All the kind people who chose to join them in working and serving and who helped them give the gift of a Thanksgiving meal, with all the trimmings, topped with a slice of pie.
  • The community who helped make this giving of love and a free meal possible, the neighbors and friends, and the businesses who generously support this event.
  • Deer Park School District welcomed them back and the accommodations that they made for the event.
  • Bean & Pie made it possible to serve Caramel Apple Crumb and Berry Crumb pies.
  • Yoke’s Fresh Market provided the chocolate/white milk from Terry’s Dairy. 
  • Peirone Produce Inc of Spokane provided the sweet potatoes made into the sweet potato souffle’.
  • An anonymous business owner in North Spokane has faithfully provided paper plates and other paper products.
  • A Deer Park family provided the turkeys and hams for the event.
  • Several friends and neighbors throughout the Deer Park community donated food, supplies, and labor.
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