Julia Patrone, 7, of Ashland takes a bite from her Christmas Dinner at the Historic Old Ashland Armory in Ashland Friday. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch

Food & Fellowship

The sour economy did little to dampen the holiday spirit Friday at the 30th annual free meal hosted by the Ashland Christian Fellowship at the Historic Ashland Armory.

About 1,000 plates of turkey, dressing, broccoli and stuffing were doled out by volunteers from noon until 4 p.m.

The turnout was the largest ever for the meal, said organizer Luke Frechette.

"We prepared for 1,000 people and ran out of food," Frechette said. "It was nonstop all afternoon."

The food supply dwindled by 3:30 p.m., leaving only broccoli, stuffing and a table loaded with pies and ice cream. The crowds ate their way through hundreds of pounds of food — 360 pounds of turkey alone — and drank gallons of hot cider.

Those who showed up late did not complain, happily accepting a plate of broccoli and stuffing to go along with hot coffee and dessert.

Kim Lewis, who organized the first meal 30 years ago in Lithia Park, said the meal continues to grow as the years go by.

"Our first year we didn't know what to expect," Lewis said. "We thought that people might not come out on Christmas Day to a meal."

However, the first free dinner was a surprise hit with the community and the church has hosted it every year since.

"We knew we were onto something big," Lewis said. "Now we have people come from all over the Rogue Valley and even Northern California."

Matt Dewald, whose family lives in Idaho and Texas, stopped by just before the turkey disappeared.

He appreciated the care taken by the volunteers to produce a quality meal that could feed so many people.

"It was a good spread," Dewald said. "It was a nice place to come, considering I don't have any family in the area."

Malik Cobb and his girlfriend, Alisha Smith, also were Christmas orphans, who stopped by looking for companionship for the holiday.

"It definitely has a small-town feel," said Cobb, whose family lives in Atlanta. "Everyone was friendly and the atmosphere is great."

Smith said she would come back next year if she and Cobb still live in the area.

"We liked spending the holiday with other people," Smith said. "Even if you don't know them it's nice to have them around."

By 4 p.m. the volunteers began to clear the tables and wind down a day that began before sunrise. The volunteers worked in shifts, serving food and cleaning as the crowds filed in, Frechette said.

"We will continue to do this meal as long as there are people willing to come," he said. "We consider this our Christmas present to the community."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail

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