Russ McDowell prepares a plate of food Thursday at the Medford Gospel Mission. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore - Julia Moore

Mission of Service

The Medford Gospel Mission's 60 volunteers whisked plates of turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie out to tables at a breakneck pace Thanksgiving Day.

The best part of the meal, however, came at the end when the waiters simply wished the diners good-bye without dropping off a check.

The free meal was served at the mission's Main Ingredient community restaurant. The eatery gives off a warm, inviting vibe that's far from the institutionalized cafeteria-style chow halls in most missions.

Jason Bull, the mission's associate director, said the goal was to step away from traditional community dining and offer something that is rare in mission kitchens: choice.

"We want people to come here and feel appreciated," Bull said. "We want to offer them a quality dining experience, except without the bill."

Diners were seated by hosts and ate at intimate tables and chairs.

The Main Ingredient works under the MyPlate nutrition guide provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This method has replaced the "food pyramid" and endorses portion sizes that favor a balance of fruit, veggies and protein.

However, that was put aside Thursday in favor of a traditional Thanksgiving Day feast of turkey, starch and pie.

Mission volunteers and cooks doled out meat from 25 turkeys and mashed boxes of potatoes to feed the throng.

Bull said the mission restaurant is popular not only with the local homeless, but also the working poor and the under-employed.

"It's usually a 50/50 split each night between the homeless and the other groups," Bull said.

The mission is partially self-sustaining because of it's 7,000-square-foot community garden. The garden grows an abundance of vegetables throughout the summer, food that is used to stock the restaurant.

Most of the garden is done for the season, but some kale and lettuce remain for free meals, Bull said.

Steven Van Pelt enjoyed the Thanksgiving Day meal with some friends. He said he enjoyed the quality of the meal and the service.

"I like it that they give you a choice of what you want to eat," he said. "The food here also seems healthier than other missions."

Bull said the mission had to turn away more than 150 people who wanted to volunteer on the holiday.

"People really want to help on the holidays," he said.

Call Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email

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