By Elon Glucklich

The Bulletin

For Saul Heald, a simple Christmas lunch of ham, bread and pie was more than he could have possibly hoped for.

The Bend resident has had trouble finding steady work and has spent time bouncing from friends’ couches to local homeless shelters over the past year.

But for an hour on Wednesday at the Family Kitchen near downtown Bend, Heald felt like he belonged.

The Family Kitchen fed more than 100 needy Central Oregon residents during a Christmas lunch on Wednesday. The aroma from 18 hams, bread rolls, gravy, pecan pie and fudge mingled with the chatter of hungry, thankful diners.

“Just getting a good meal in my stomach changes my whole outlook for a bit,” Heald said. “God bless the people who put it together.”

The Family Kitchen typically makes up soup and salad for members of the community each Wednesday. It usually only holds a Christmas meal, if there aren’t any other options for less fortunate members of the community, Cindy Tidball, Family Kitchen’s program coordinator, said.

With an apparent shortage of alternatives this year, Family Kitchen staff and volunteers pulled out all the stops to whip up a feast for those in need. Some volunteers showed up at 6 a.m. to start preparing meals.

“We’ve got a room of people who probably wouldn’t have had a Christmas meal this year otherwise,” Tidball said Wednesday morning. Without helping to put the event together, “I couldn’t enjoy Christmas.”

Despite slightly improving economic conditions across Central Oregon, Tidball said the demand for meals has steadily risen. The Family Kitchen is preparing about 5,000 free meals each month.

To make it work, the organization relies on donations from individuals and local churches. The organization also applies for grants to purchase food and supplies.

“We don’t succeed without help from the community,” Tidball said.

For people like Ty Hegdahl, seeing volunteers spending Christmas morning taking care of others is a heartwarming experience.

“People don’t know what it’s like to not know where your next meal is going to come from,” Hegdahl said. “One meal isn’t going to solve my problems. But I sure do appreciate it.”

Anyone wanting to support the organization can mail donations to Family Kitchen, 469 Wall St., Bend, OR 97701. They can also bring donated food to 231 N.W. Idaho Ave., or log on to www.familykitchen.org/donate-now.

— Reporter: 541-617-7820, eglucklich@bendbulletin.com

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