Charissa Mackinnon, 7, left, and her sister, Celeste, 9, monitor the cookies during the annual Community Christmas Dinner Sunday at the Historic Ashland Armory. Mail Tribune / Julia Moore

More than a thousand served at Ashland armory free Christmas meal

While other kids spent Christmas gorging on candy and playing their new Xboxes, young Charissa Mackinnon and her sister, Celeste, handed out cookies during a free community holiday dinner at the Historic Ashland Armory.

For Charissa, 7, and Celeste, 9, it was their second Christmas working at the free dinner, which was open to everyone, regardless of their situation.

"We like giving people stuff," Charissa said.

"And helping," Celeste added.

The dinner was hosted by the Ashland Christian Fellowship church and has been an Ashland mainstay since 1979.

Kim Lewis was there for the inaugural free meal. He is impressed with how it has grown over the years.

"In the first one, we had 200 people show up," Lewis said. "Now we plan for more than 1,000."

In fact, last year's total eclipsed 1,200 hungry mouths, said Chris Adams, a church board member who serves as the dinner coordinator.

"With this dinner it doesn't matter if you're homeless or have other places to go on Christmas," Adams said. "This is about the community coming together to enjoy dinner together."

The feast requires the efforts of 150 volunteers, most of them culled from the church, but certainly not all, Adams said.

Nearly 400 pounds of turkey were served between noon and 4 p.m. The line snaking into the armory stretched outside the door at one point.

Kevin Watt oversaw the two kitchens operated by the volunteers. In each, workers hustled to fill the buffet lines as diners filled their plates with Christmas comfort food. As one pan of broccoli or pot of gravy left the stove, another quickly replaced it.

"It's hard work, but worth it," Watt said.

He said this year's numbers probably won't beat last year, which saw a record number file through the food lines.

"It seems slower this year for some reason," he said. "The economy is still slow. Who knows why it's slower, though."

For Laurie Rector and her 15-year-old son, Lucas Hyman, the meal was their Ashland meet-and-greet after moving there two years ago from Portland.

They spent the afternoon handing out slices of apple pie and pumpkin pie. It was their second year spending Christmas at the meal.

"I've met great people here," Rector said. "I just sit down at a table and start talking to people. I might not even know them before I sit down, but after a while we're talking."

And though it's labor intensive and stressful at times to serve more than 1,000 in four hours, Watt believes the volunteers wouldn't want to be anywhere else on the holiday.

"What more can you give besides your time and food?" he asked.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email

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