NEWPORT — The lone church in South Beach holds a Thanksgiving community dinner each year, the day before Thanksgiving. The meal gives people from all walks of life a chance to gather and bond in the spirit of the season.
This year, the place was bursting at the seams. Next year, however, will be the last Thanksgiving meal hosted in the warehouse at 3335 South Coast Highway.
“The City of Newport owns our building and our lease is up, so we’re going to be forced to leave in about a year or so,” said Pastor Luke Frechette. “So we’re looking forward to what’s in the future for us in acquiring some land and a new building in South Beach.”
Frechette said the city leased the warehouse to South Beach Church for two years with the understanding that it would have to vacate the building so an intersection can be installed on the land. They are currently renting the space month-to-month and as of now, the church doesn’t know for sure when that construction will begin or where to go next.
Despite the uncertainty, the room was filled with laughter, chatter and smiles as steaming plates of Thanksgiving fare were dished up along with another sense of nourishment that’s harder to quantify.
Frechette described the church as “community service focused,” which was evident in the way volunteers on the serving line spoke about the event.
“You see a lot of homeless go through, you see a lot of families go through,” said Kim Modrall. “And it’s just nice to serve those people who you figure aren’t going to get a great meal tomorrow.”
“And just to bring the community together,” added Linda Thompson.
As for those attending, each had their own reasons — need-based or otherwise — but many shared the same sentiment: they came for the community.
“For us, this is really important because it’s our first thanksgiving away from family,” said Cece Perez, who moved to Waldport with her husband just under a year ago. “We feel like this is a place where we can definitely get connected and we feel like the people here are very much our ‘Oregon family’ or our ‘community family.’”
Kim described “the electricity and the love” that radiates through the room during this event, saying: “It gets to the point where you have so many people coming through (the line) and they’re talking, and they’re talking to the servers. And then, sitting down, there’s a community feel over there. It’s like one huge family reunion. And probably, when you sit down, you don’t know the person across from you. But you get to know them, after you’re sitting there for a while, and it’s just a fun, loving atmosphere.”
Over the course of four hours, almost 700 meals were served or boxed up for delivery to those who couldn’t make out, almost double last year’s total. After the event, Frechette said that the church is considering extending the serving time by two hours next year to make the event more accessible to working families.
“We can’t do everything,” said Frechette. “But this (dinner) is one of the things that our church is committed to doing.”
South Beach Church, which brings approximately 1,000 people to the warehouse each Sunday, will continue in its current space until January , when their lease ends. Church administrators are in discussion with a landowner about a potential building site, and Frechette explained that they will meet at Sam Case Elementary or Newport High School if no other opportunity provides itself before then.
“We are actively looking for land elsewhere in South Beach and have identified at least three pieces of land near Oregon Community College that we feel would work,” said Frechette. “We’re actually really excited at what the future holds for our community and beyond through South Beach Church.”
But, for now, many of the efforts of the church are continuing in a community service direction.
“There’s so many things that the church is doing trying to just address so many needs in the community,” said Bryan Modrall, who volunteered on the serving line with his wife, Kim. “They’re working with DHS, they have a giving tree for kids who are children of prisoners — there’s just a lot of things. Especially this time of year where we see needs in the community, South Beach Church likes to reach out.”