SEDRO-WOOLLEY — Hundreds of people enjoyed homemade turkey, sweet potatoes, pie and other turkey day classics on Thursday at the annual Sedro-Woolley Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

The dinner, in its 44th year, was held at the Helping Hands Solution Center for the first time in its history. The center has long provided food for the event, but its new building has allowed Helping Hands to take on a more central role in ensuring the dinner continues.

“We really feel like the Helping Hands Solutions Center belongs to the community and should be available for stuff like this,” development director Brandon Fullerton said.

The dinner was started in the mid 1970s by former Sedro-Woolley Mayor William “Bill” Stendal and his family, who organized the event until 2005, event director Elinor Nakis said. In 2007, volunteers stepped up to revive the dinner.

“A lot of people come just for the fellowship,” Nakis said.

Many of the event’s volunteers initially signed up in order to meet neighbors and get involved, she said.

“Maybe they’re single or new to the community or just don’t have a big house,” Nakis said. “This is for everybody, not just for those who are low income.”

Jim Johnson, a first-year volunteer, said he decided to help out because his kids weren’t coming into town and he and his wife didn’t want to cook.

“This was an option for us to get involved instead,” he said.

The event typically sees about 300 people come through for food and fellowship, Nakis said. The center provided about $600 of food and handled all the financial and food donations, while volunteers raised funds for about $1,250 of food, Nakis said.

Nakis and a handful of other volunteers meet throughout the year to help plan the dinner. On Thursday, they were joined by about 60 other volunteers.

In addition, 108 meals were delivered to people unable to come to the center.

Lori Timblin started volunteering at the dinner with her husband and two daughters 11 years ago when they first moved to the area.

“I want my kids to have that sense that there’s a bigger world out there and for them to be involved in their community,” she said.

At one of the dozen tables filling the front room of the center, Burlington resident Rita Rocha attended the dinner for the first time with her kids.

“We just came here to spend time with people,” she said.

Rocha, who was invited by a veteran volunteer, said the kindness showed by those who organize the event made the dinner a success.

“Like they say, they’re helping hands, they are warm hands,” she said. “I’m definitely coming again.”

— Reporter Julia-Grace Sanders: 360-416-2145, jsanders@skagitpublishing.com, Twitter: @JuliaGrace_SVH.

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