Perhaps no quote better embodies the spirit of Thanksgiving in 2020 than this one from Ernest Hemingway: “Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do and with what.”

One of the harshest realities beset by the pandemic is our inability to find ways to serve, give back and deepen relationships within our community. The challenge of gathering, working together and even staying positive has been insurmountable at times.

Such has been the case with many of my favorite activities and events and some of the work of the Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District. As we were planning for our annual Community Thanksgiving Meal, we made the decision to shift the meal to a “to-go” service this year.

Typically, we have 150-200 diners in the Bob Chisholm Community Center and a host of volunteers to serve them. It’s a wonderful experience and a highlight of this time of year for all that participate. We also get the opportunity to serve and give to those that often need it the most: the elderly, the lonely, the forgotten and overlooked in our society.

While an in-person meal experience would have been preferred, it wasn’t possible this year and we adapted on the fly. Volunteers were activated, pumpkin pie and rolls were accumulated and the plan for delivery of the meal was organized.

As can be expected, there were a number of complications that arose in the days and hours preceding the meal. No event seems to ever go perfectly and this was no exception.

Due to factors outside of our control, we cooked the turkey, mashed potatoes and stuffing for the meal this year, the first time that’s ever happened.

I felt lucky to spend the evening before Thanksgiving preparing 100 pounds of mashed potatoes with an especially dedicated community volunteer.

On the day of, we worked through all the potential challenges including cooking enough box stuffing for the diners and figuring out how to serve hot gravy in a to-go container, while keeping it separate from the pumpkin pie. That was a challenge I hadn’t anticipated.

Luckily we had many hands contributing, all wearing masks and doing our best to socially distance. This year we had volunteer representatives from Miss Clatsop County, the Seaside Chamber of Commerce and Ambassadors, Sunset Empire Park and Recreation District and a horde of eager students from Seaside High School, through the Key Club and the Associated Student Body programs. What a treat it was to have that chance to interact through service with some of the best people in our community!

We served a bit more than 100 meals to those that drove or walked to the community center but there was plenty of food remaining. Then something remarkable happened. An informal meeting was held about how to get more food out, particularly to those that need it and action was taken.

We had a group of volunteers load their trunk with meals and take them out with hopes of delivering to some of the people who are homeless in our community. They were successful. Other volunteers drove around and encouraged folks to come to the Center for a delicious meal. And everyone was awed when Seaside police officers and folks from the Seaside Fire Department came by, loading up with dozens of meals each with hopes of delivering them out safely to our community.

While the event was untraditional in its delivery and certainly not without some memorable challenges, it was such an amazing way to spend my Thanksgiving and gave me pause at how much I have to be grateful for.

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