On Thanksgiving morning, Bill Gregory was thankful to be in from the cold.
The 61-year-old Bendite and former general contractor was enjoying a Thanksgiving brunch in the warm dining hall of Bethlehem Inn, the shelter on Bend’s north side where he lives.
Bacon, eggs, scones and French toast were piled up on his plate as he chatted with fellow residents. Temperatures had dipped to the low 20s.
“You have the spread here, and they’ve got seconds, and they’ve got thirds, enough to keep that smile on your face,” said Gregory, a Bend resident since 1978.
Gregory was delighted to be indoors and expressed concern for those who are sleeping in the cold. He recalled freezing nights in the past, sleeping in ATM booths or other spots around town.
“I have been out there on Thanksgiving. I don’t know where I laid my head; it’s a blur,” said Gregory, who grew up in Roseburg and attended Oregon State University.
Gregory was one of about 100 people enjoying a hot meal at Bethlehem Inn. Volunteers were on hand to help serve the brunch on the wintery Thanksgiving morning, one of several shelters to offer extra meals on the holiday. In the cafeteria, many talked about the weather or watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on a big-screen television.
Gregory applauded the kitchen staff for the meal, which would have been difficult to afford on his Social Security check of $771 a month. His budget is stretched thin due to health issues stemming from diabetes, which resulted in the loss of his toes.
Health issues and a history of alcoholism caused Gregory to lose work and housing opportunities, but the Bethlehem Inn is helping to get him back on track, he said.
“I used to lay around town. I used to lie in front of the Catholic Church doors with a sleeping bag,” said Gregory. “But this place helped me, and I am not sure if I would be here without them.”
As he ate, Gregory wished fellow diners a happy Thanksgiving, spreading good cheer to others in a challenging period in their lives.
“It’s not that easy,” he said. “Almost everyone is here to transition into a better life. It’s friendly and it’s a happy great day. Everyone is saying happy Thanksgiving and today I went out of my way to make sure I said that to everyone.”
The meal was enjoyed at the inn’s new kitchen and dining facility, dedicated earlier this month. The nonprofit had a $9 million renovation from its former facility, a 1960s-era motel.
“The fact that we have a commercial kitchen now makes all the difference in the world,” said Bethlehem Inn’s Executive Director Gwenn Wysling. “For 10 years we operated without a kitchen. So it has been a real gift to provide these amazing meals and dishes for folks who are struggling and need a hot meal and a safe place to stay.”
Volunteers on Thursday included Arianna Angelides, an account manager at G5, who brought along family members to help serve French toast, salmon casserole, scrambled eggs, pie, pastries and other treats.
“It has been wonderful. I feel like all the residents are so appreciative. I have cracked more eggs than I have ever cracked before, but it has been a nice experience to get together as a family and give back to the community,” Angelides said.
Trudy Thompson-Charles, a resident at Bethlehem Inn for just over a week, also said she was grateful to be among the guests.
Originally from Northern California and a member of the Yurok Tribe, she raised her four children on The Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs reservation. A boating accident in 2008 caused her to miss work but after several years of struggle, she is now looking forward to rejoining the workforce.
On the day of Thanksgiving she reflected on the past and remained hopeful for the future.
“I am thankful for all that the creator has provided to bringing diverse people together and helping each other,” Thompson-Charles said. “I am thankful for this place providing me the tools I can use to help myself, and I am blessed to be able to come here and be part of something.”
The meal at Bethlehem Inn was one of several places serving free holiday food in Bend. Lunch was also served downtown at the Family Kitchen, which has been serving free meals to those in need since 1986.
At Shepherd’s House in Bend on Wednesday, around 100 people enjoyed a meal served by 10 volunteers from Compass Church. Earlier in the day, the 30 residents of Shepherd’s House worked together amid blizzard conditions to clear snow from the property.
“Everybody is happy. Our morale as a house is improved because everyone went out and shoveled snow today. We had fun doing that,” John Lodise, director of emergency services and Shepherd’s House, said Wednesday.
Inside the house near central Bend, groups of friends sat at long tables together and dined on turkey with all the trimmings on Wednesday. A warm atmosphere and inspiring words on the walls made the room feel more like a home than a shelter.
Lodise said the nonprofit offers food, clothing and shelter for the homeless. But more importantly it offers a warm welcome, with a support staff willing to listen to oftentimes difficult life stories.
“We are a place that allows people to come together,” said Lodise. “You don’t have to be out alone on the street. You don’t have to be isolated and feel like no one cares. You can actually come and enjoy a holiday gathering and feel the spirit of a holiday like Thanksgiving or Christmas. I think that’s really important. It adds dignity and pleasure to people’s lives.”
Bundled up against the cold with a jacket and wool hat, 62-year old Kevin Charity was all smiles as he finished off a plate of hot food — turkey, ham, sweet potatoes, gravy and stuffing.
Most of Charity’s relatives are back east, and his three children are with other relatives this holiday weekend, so he is by himself for the holidays.
Charity lives in a van, but he prefers that he and his friends not be called homeless.
“Outdoor family,” he said with a laugh. “It has a better ring to it. It doesn’t sound so vicious.”
A member of his outdoor family sat across the table. Beau Buchanan, 39, had came into town from Juniper Ridge, where he’s been tent camping for the past six weeks.
“It was really nice to come in, get warm, grab something to eat. This place is really helpful,” said Buchanan, who does odd jobs including dishwashing and construction.
“We had turkey and ham and stuffing and green beans, sweet potatoes, and all that good Thanksgiving stuff that you love.”
Buchanan wasn’t looking forward to going back into the winter weather but the use of a propane heater will make his situation a little better.
“It’s miserable out there,” he said. “But we make do. We survive.”
Despite his living situation, he found reasons to be thankful this holiday season.
“I am thankful to be alive. I am not six feet under. I am not in jail. I have friends that care about me,” he said.
Buchanan said he would like to see the holiday spirit rub off on the general public, too.
“People need to be more understanding, more caring, more helpful,” he said. “If you see someone you know is homeless, at least say hello. If you can help, then help. If you can’t, that’s OK but don’t turn away. Just a smile goes a long way, it brightens someone’s day.”