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Dave Koza, left, and Dale Mammen check temperatures in the turkey department as preparation heats up this morning for Thursday’s Neighbor to Neighbor Thanksgiving dinner at the Presbyterian Friendship Center in La Grande. CHRIS BAXTER - The Observer
One flight of stairs leads to the basement of the Presbyterian Church at 1308 Washington Ave.
The 25 to 30 people who walked down this flight during a late November afternoon two decades ago helped give wings to what is now a cherished tradition in La Grande — the annual Neighbor to Neighbor community Thanksgiving dinner.
The dinner started unceremoniously about 20 years ago when 25 to 30 people who did not have family members in town they could dine with, met for Thanksgiving dinner in the basement of the Presbyterian Church. Afterwards they all went roller skating at a rink in La Grande, which has since closed.
The community members had such a good time that day that they continued meeting for dinner each Thanksgiving Day.
The dinner has since grown and evolved to the point that today between 200 and 250 people come for the turkey day dinner each year at the Presbyterian Friendship Center, 1204 Spring St. A chapter will be added to the tradition on Thursday when another free community Thanksgiving dinner is served. The meal, to be provided by Neighbor to Neighbor Ministries, will be offered between noon and 1 p.m. at the Presbyterian Friendship Center.
Each year a broad cross section of the community is represented at the dinner.
“It is not just for the low income and elderly. It is for everybody,’’ said Donna Fuhrman, who helped start the dinner two decades ago and continues to help put it on with assistance from her husband, Lowell.
The primary leaders of this year’s dinner are Dale and Ginny Mammen and David and Zee Koza.
Everyone attending will have a chance to enjoy turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, fruit salad, rolls and pumpkin pie. Turkey and ham will be served. The rest of the meal will be available via a buffet.
Diners will be able to come back for as many extra helpings as they want.
Between 12 to 13 local churches that are a part of Neighbor to Neighbor Ministries come together to prepare and serve the community meals each year.
“These churches are our backbone,’’ said Fuhrman, who emphasized that many volunteers also play a large role in the program.
The Thanksgiving Day meal is one of three community dinners Neighbor to Neighbor Ministries serves each year in La Grande. The other meals are served at Christmas and Easter. Neighbor to Neighbor took over the community meal program at least 15 years ago.