Volunteers serving free food to community memebrs for the 4th annual Harvest Feast held at The Veteran’s Hall on Thanksgiving.| Photo by Tony Wallin

Veterans shelter from the storm

40-year tradition still feeding the community
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Seventy volunteers and hungry community members found shelter from the rain thanks to the fourth annual Harvest Feast at the Arcata’s Veteran Memorial Building.

Volunteer Coordinator Leslie Zandervan-Droz has been volunteering on Thanksgiving for the last 38 years in Arcata. She said the recent Harvest Feast is a cooperative effort between The Veteran’s Hall and Arcata House Partnership, but the community as a whole has been involved for 40 years.

“I’m really into community building and cooperation,” Zandervan-Droz said. “This is where the community joins to feed each other.”

Zandervan-Droz said volunteers do prep work on Tuesday and Wednesday afternoons to get ready for Thursday. On Thanksgiving, volunteers start at 5 a.m. to begin setting up and all the food is donated.

The dishes consist of barbecued turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, mac n’ cheese, cranberry sauce, lentil soup, and pumpkin pie. Volunteers included many people, from HSU faculty to homeless veterans.

“I’m really glad to see people get fed who would normally not get any food today,” Zandervan-Droz said.

Veteran volunteer and grandmother, Gail Coonen, was one of three volunteers greeting community members as they entered the Veteran’s Hall.

Coonen said she was tasked with coordinating seniors and disabled community members upstairs, storing and watching backpacks and keeping non-service animals outside. She said her son was making the turkey dinner this year which allowed her to volunteer worry-free.

“I just felt like I had to help out,” Coonen said.

Second year volunteer Mary Ella Anderson said she was here because it’s the right thing to do. Anderson said there’s a need for more people to reach out because there are a lot of homeless and forgotten people in the community. She said there needs to be a shift in our economic gap to share the wealth equally.

“There’s such a terrible economic divide in our community that we need to start including everyone,” Anderson said.

Zandervan-Droz said the event doesn’t end until the food runs out. She said volunteers who sign up to help in the morning almost always stay until the end because of how enjoyable the event is. There are a lot of familiar faces she said and there are always new volunteers who became a part of the community.

“We see a lot of the same old faces,” Zandervan-Droz said. “Its chaotic and fun.”

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