Angel Cortez, 5, eats a cup cake during the dinner for kids unlimited Wednesday. - Jamie Lusch

A true feast of giving

The turkey, dressing and mashed potatoes were dandy. But a double chocolate chip cookie and a cupcake made his Thanksgiving meal super special, said a grinning Angel Cortes Jr.

"I want some ice cream, too," said the 5-year-old, as his older brother, Anthony, headed off to the dessert tables.

Angel's family joined more than 700 other diners at a community holiday feast Wednesday put on by Kids Unlimited and the Maslow Project in Medford.

"It's a nice way to bring the community together," said Angel Cortes Sr., looking around at all the other families.

He heard about the holiday dinner because two of his sons are involved in the basketball program at Kids Unlimited, he said.

The Medford School District's Maslow Project is designed to provide assistance to homeless teens. Staff members combined forces this year with Kids Unlimited to put on the 11th year of this annual feast, said Tom Cole, executive director of Kids Unlimited.

"When we started this, it was mostly parents bringing stuff from home. It was basically a potluck for 50 kids," said Cole.

Thanks to the coordinating efforts of Maslow Project director Mary Ferrell, and the outpouring of goods and services from many in the community, this year's tables were filled to overflowing, he said.

"It's been nice to have so many people step forward," Cole said. "This has been the most organized event we've ever had. And the biggest by far. We anticipate feeding between 700 and 750 people between 4 and 7 p.m.," Cole said.

Ferrell admitted she had her doubts about pulling off such a large event at first. But the community meal came together so quickly, and with so much support, she was astonished.

"I honestly didn't think we could pull it off. But I sent out an e-mail and two days later we had all the help we needed," Ferrell said.

In addition to individual donations, Regence BlueCross sent a whole team to do shopping, the Home Builders Association of Jackson County donated 100 boxes of food, and Umpqua Dairy donated gallons of ice cream, she said.

"And we had a local chef offer to do all the cooking. But she doesn't want any attention for what she's done," Ferrell said.

The kids from the Maslow Project also helped. They washed dishes, toted bags of groceries, whatever was needed, she said.

"One of our homeless girls stayed until 8 o'clock last night peeling potatoes. She was so into helping," Ferrell said.

Robie Andis, 13, and Arkana Akers, 12, helped with the dinner, too. Andis moved bag after bag of donated food for more than an hour. Akers helped set up tables and chairs, Ferrell said.

"I like to help. It feels really good," said Akers.

Waves of holiday diners came in shifts to partake of the three-hour Thanksgiving feast. As people came and ate and left, tables were cleared and reset for the next family.

Ferrell and Cole moved about the center, greeting family members by name and good-naturedly shooing youngsters away from the dessert table until after they had dined on turkey or spiral cut ham or any of dozens of dishes available at the buffet tables.

"Did you have dinner yet? Don't be bashful about getting your food. Just get in line there," Cole said to one young blond girl.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail

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