Volunteer Bob Good, left, serves food to an Ashland man who refers to himself as 'Bach-Thor' in Lithia Park on Thursday afternoon. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore

In a spirit of Thanksgiving

Volunteers and residents without permanent housing or without a place to spend Thanksgiving joined together Thursday to make a cold corner of Ashland's Lithia Park a little warmer Thursday.

Ashland resident Thomas Titus, 39, who was homeless in his younger years and now is a Southern Oregon University student, and his housemate, radio host Nicole Vilencia, organized a feast Thursday in the park's Cottonwood Memorial Picnic Area off Granite Street about eight days after learning there was no other event in Ashland where people without permanent housing could eat a Thanksgiving meal.

"Those cold holidays are tough," Titus said. "You can't get a hot meal. No restaurants are open, so you starve out for the night. I didn't want to see anybody go through that."

In the park where leftover snow glistened in the sun, volunteers ushered some people into the park area by vehicle down Granite Street.

"It's really good," said a man who called himself "Bach-Thor," as he ate a steaming plate of food. "They had a really good intention, and they came together."

In eight days' time, Titus and Vilencia managed to recruit 30 volunteers who reported to the park early Thursday to scrape ice and snow off picnic tables and benches and build fires in the barbecue pits. Diners, some of whom were homeless and others who were just looking for a place where they could commune with others, began showing up just before 1 p.m.

"It took us a couple of hours to scrape off the snow and ice," said volunteer Tara Trails of Ashland, who learned about the event on Craigslist.

Titis took the lead to prepare the food in the kitchen at Kobe Japanese restaurant, while other volunteers ferried the hot dishes over to the park.

Volunteers dished up turkey, stuffing, candied yams, pumpkin pie, corn, cranberries, rolls and a Thai vegetarian stew to about 80 people who either lacked permanent housing or didn't have other Thanksgiving day plans.

They also packed up food for people to eat later.

Rob Alexander was invited to the meal by a volunteer who saw him walking downtown. The 27-year-old, who sleeps at friends' place to stay warm at night, said the meal made his holiday brighter.

"I think it's awesome," Alexander said. "Everything is delicious."

Another man who wouldn't give his name said he slept in the woods the night before.

"It was something to do," he said.

A family of musicians, lead by Bobby Di Chiro of the Karen Lovely Band, showed up at the beginning of the event to play acoustic music for volunteers and attendees.

"We had no idea they were coming," Vilencia said. "That was a surprise, and that was lovely."

Titus, who lacked stable housing about 12 years ago after being struck by a truck and suffering physical and brain damage, said he knows how it feels to not have a home and to be alone on the holidays, and he wanted to everything he could to prevent others from having to spend Thanksgiving in the same way.

He first looked for a place where he could volunteer preparing or dishing up meals, but after some phone calls, he learned there weren't any organized Thanksgiving feasts planned for the homeless in Ashland.

He and Vilencia decided to offer their own and appealed to the community to help out. Area businesses and residents donated food, beverages and disposable dishes and utensils.

The housemates said they still have canned goods left and plan to use them for a sequel event on Christmas.

But, they said, they plan to hold the Christmas meal in an indoor venue, as they'll have more time to find a location.

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail

Share This Story