SWEET HOME — Michael Hall has spent most of his life greeting customers at restaurants in the mid-valley, the last nine years at The Point in Sweet Home, which he owns with his wife, Mira.
So, it’s not unusual when Hall smiles, puts his arm on guest Starla Williams’ shoulder and heartily asks, “How are you today? It’s good to see you.”
It’s easy to see Hall means what he says.
But Thursday morning, Hall wasn’t at his popular eatery that overlooks Foster Reservoir. He was at the Elks Lodge greeting one of the approximately 500 guests being served Thanksgiving dinners — complete with all of the traditional trimmings — either dine-in or delivered to the homes of shut-ins and first responders at the police department and fire department working on the holiday.
This is the eighth year Hall and his crew at The Point have closed up shop and fed anyone who wants a Thanksgiving meal. Rich or poor, young or old. No questions asked.
“My crew loves doing this,” Hall said. “They take turns cooking 450 pounds of turkey around the clock. We also have wonderful volunteers, like Hope Coulter and Trina Field, who have been with us every year.”
Coulter and Field were sporting fall foliage-style headgear as they served up plate after plate of Thanksgiving goodness.
The event has grown to the point it had to be moved to the Elks Lodge three years ago.
“This is really a ministry,” Hall said. “We will take out several dozen meals to shut-ins and none of them called for it. Their neighbors call us because they know the other families are hurting in some way. All have had something tragic in their lives this year. This is our community’s way of reaching out and telling them we care about them and we love them.”
Hall said a kind word, fellowship and a hot, tasty meal may go a long way toward helping someone who is depressed, hurting or possibly contemplating suicide during the stressful holiday season.
Hall said his crew prepared 450 pounds of turkey, about 150 pounds of mashed potatoes and mounds of stuffing. Meals also came with cranberry sauce, gravy, seasoned corn and hot rolls with butter.
Elks Lodge Chef Donna Smith and helpers baked 26 pumpkin, chocolate and carrot cakes — which were sliced into generous portions.
Volunteers like Jerry McCollum arrived at the Elks Lodge before dawn to set up tables, chairs and silverware. All guests are seated and meals delivered to their tables by volunteers, who also bus the tables.
Servers asked guests if they wanted a small or large order, adding that if they took the large order, leftovers could easily be boxed up and taken home for snacking later in the day. There were many takers.
“Michael Hall is one of our members and when this event outgrew his restaurant space, we were happy to volunteer,” said Elks activities chairwoman Kimi Nash. “We provide the space, drinks and cakes.”
Elks Lodge 1972 has about 363 members and was chartered in 1955.
Everyone was pitching in Thursday morning, including Exalted Ruler Terry Layman, who was helping place slices of cake onto serving tables.
“This is something we enjoy doing,” Layman said. “We have great volunteers we can count on.”
Angela Clegg is a first-year volunteer.
“My whole family is in Idaho and I wanted to have a family vibe, plus help out by doing something positive,” Clegg said.
Heather Maurer is another first-year volunteer.
“I have wanted to do something like this for 30 years,” Maurer said. “It’s definitely nice and I will do it again next year.”
Starla Williams was getting two to-go orders for herself and her husband, Terry, who are both disabled.
“We really enjoy this,” Williams said. “Everyone is so friendly.
Seated nearby were Cleta Fox, 83, and her husband, Herbert Fox, 87, who have lived in Sweet Home for nine years. Oklahoma natives, they had lived in Gresham since 1960, where Herbert mixed colors at Columbia Brick and she worked at the No Sag Spring Company in Milwaukie.
“We come to this every year and love it,” Cleta said. “We don’t have any children and this is wonderful. Plus, we donate and the money helps local groups every year. It’s really a wonderful program that we look forward to every year.”
The event is truly a family effort for the Halls. Their daughter, Khaira, 10, was helping out and everyone was fawning over the Hall's new 8-week-old granddaughter, Adalyn Grace, daughter of Nick and Amanda Hall.
“People come back every year,” Michael Hall said. “We are so blessed as a community with what this program has done for all of us.”