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Volunteers gather at Lane CC chop and peel in preparation for Whiteaker’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner

image of Lane volunteers peeling potatoes
LCC soccer players Harley Hix (foreground) and Kylee O'Connor peel potatoes Sunday for Thursday's 27th annual Whiteaker Community Thanksgiving Dinner. The women's soccer team chose to volunteer their time as a team for the second year in a row. (Mary Jane Schulte/The Register-Guard)

By Junnelle Hogen
The Register-Guard
Nov. 23, 2015

Nearly 50 volunteers at Lane Community College laughed and chatted for hours on Sunday, because what could be more fun than peeling 500 pounds of potatoes and chopping 200 loaves of bread into crouton-size proportions?

Those were among the food preparation tasks that awaited the volunteers, who were helping to prepare for Lane County's largest free community Thanksgiving dinner, hosted by the nonprofit Whiteaker Community Dinners. The 27th annual meal, to be held Thanks­giving Day at the Whiteaker Head Start Center, is expected to serve more than 2,200 people.

But before the festivities comes the grunt work.

Sunday was the second of two days when dozens of volunteers, including students and instructors in LCC's Culinary Arts program, gathered to turn an array of fresh goods into baked and prepared items for the feast.

"I wouldn't miss it," said Andrew Lardinois as he helped prepare a 150-pound batch of tofu. While his longtime forte is in stir-fry preparation, Lardinois said he was still enjoying the pure-vegan variety.

Lardinois has been volunteering at the event for 11 years and describes the cadre of volunteers as a tight-knit group. "I'll be helping out on Thursday, too," Lardinois said.

Eiko Treder is another regular. She brings her children — Tia, 16, and Maya, 14 — with her.

"They love it," Treder said. "In the last eight years, they've gone from cutting vegetables to breaking down the turkey."

Beverly Farfan, who has coordinated the dinner for 20 years, said this year's team of volunteers was ahead of schedule with food preparation. "They've really done a great job," she said.

LCC chef Clive Wanstall spearheads the cooking and storage parts of the food preparation.

"School slows down at about this point in the year, and we have room to refrigerate the food for the dinner," said Wanstall, showing storage space reserved for the feast in the kitchen's three walk-in fridges.

While several foods were baked and cut, ingredients for the soup and gravy remained unmixed.

"It's a three-stage affair," Wanstall said.

Volunteers on Sunday did everything from cutting and baking yams to cooking turkey and potatoes, but some of the food preparation will be reserved for the day of the feast.

As well as bulk food items, Whiteaker Community Dinners has 400 pies and other desserts reserved for the dinner.

Farfan said the amount of food is about the same this year as last. A number of local businesses, organizations, schools and individuals help provide food for the event. One of the newer contributors is the Oregon Potato Commission, which began donating potatoes for the event last year.

As well as new contributors, there were also new volunteers working in the kitchen on Sunday.

"It's my first time," said Chris Dunphy, a culinary student at the college. "My friend encouraged me to come."

Farfan said the combination of seasoned veterans and new recruits makes the process interesting every year.

"I always tell people it's like a jigsaw puzzle," she said. "But a lot of people know what to do, and we make it work."

Follow Junnelle on Twitter @JunnelleH . Email [email protected] .

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