The first year Jody Collins took over the Oriole Cafe in Hoquiam, she got a call just before Thanksgiving asking if the restaurant could help provide a holiday meal for the seniors at the Emerson Manor a block away.
That was 2008, and Collins, along with her family and staff, have now made the Emerson Manor Thanksgiving dinner on the Sunday before the holiday an annual tradition for the past four years.
“We did my traditional Thanksgiving, with turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberries and fruit salad, yams, dressing and a roll,” Collins said. “It’s nothing fancy at all and they absolutely loved it.”
“It’s just like home,” said Diane Griss, community manager at the Manor and the person who first made the call to Collins.
Residents truly appreciate the feast and the fellowship that Collins and family bring with them, Griss said.
“Most of their family members are out of town and they are here by themselves, or given their age they might be the last living member of their family,” Griss said. “So this way, they get to celebrate Thanksgiving with their neighbors.”
Griss’ own family helps out, and several tables are laid out end-to-end throughout the main floor lobby so that all the residents can sit at one long table.
“You may have to holler down to your neighbor at the other end,” Griss said.
Just like being in a restaurant, Collins and her staff serves the residents with food, beverage and dessert, and then clean up the dishes.
“My sons have friends that will come and help us, too,” Collins said. “We just deliver plates to everybody. We love it.”
“For her to do it is above and beyond the call of duty,” Griss said.
Most of the food is prepared at the Oriole before the finishing touches are completed in the Manor’s community room prior to the 5 p.m. feast.
Cooking Thanksgiving dinner for 50 people is no easy task, requiring three to four turkeys.
“It’s a large amount of people to cook for and they do it without hesitation and with grace and elegance,” Griss said.
“If you do it and people like it, then why not keep doing it?” Collins said.
Collins lets the eldest of her three sons, Mitch, carve the turkey, believing it to be a man’s job.
“We set it out on a cart so that everybody can witness the carving of the turkey,” Griss said.
At the restaurant, the Collins family and staff will be at work Thanksgiving, too, as the Oriole will be open for a special holiday dinner for $21.99 per person. Diners have a choice of turkey, ham or prime rib, or a little of each up to 12 ounces of meat.
The Oriole is located at 708 J St. in Hoquiam, and reservations for the Thanksgiving dinner can be made at (360) 532-1381.
Providing meals for the residents of the manor as well as being open on Thanksgiving brings the family together in the true spirit of holiday, Collins said.
“Everybody gets involved,” she said.
The manor has several holiday celebrations that involve the community, including a recent haunted Halloween party and a holiday open house.
“We really try to be part of the community, the building as a whole, because they live in Hoquiam and we owe it to them to try to do what we can to help,” Griss said.
Last year, Collins also provided Christmas dinner.
“Oh my gosh, the doors flew open and everybody came running through and it was awesome,” she said.
Collins describe herself as a lifelong restaurant worker, employed for many years as a waitress and bartender at Duffy’s in Aberdeen. She even was an assistant manager at a McDonald’s in Texas. She considers Duffy’s owner Ralph Larson to be the mentor who inspired her to take over the Oriole, which she opened on Feb. 9, 2009.
“He told me that Hoquiam is not considered a good spot to open an restaurant, but said that, ‘If anybody is going to be able to do it, you will,’ ” she said of Larson’s advice.
“I just took that as very encouraging. If I have problems that I don’t know the answer to, I call Ralph.”
Does she mind being in the kitchen all day Sunday for the Emerson Manor and then all day Thanksgiving day for the Oriole? “This is like home, and these people who come in here all the time are like family,” Jody said.
Like his mother, Mitch Collins and his brothers, Kurt and James, all have specific tasks in preparing and serving the dinner at the manor. Regular customer Jerry Paulson also helps out delivering and serving the food. Pies are provided by Jody Collins’ favorite local pie maker, Theresa Johnson of Elma, who worked for 26 years at Betty’s Kitchen.
“We have such a good crew that all of us know what we need,” Mitch said. “We can set it up the night before and then mom comes in before the roosters crow to get the turkeys in the oven.”
As a Christian, Jody Collins said she simply loves to help the Manor residents for the joy of seeing their smiles and for the bond of sharing the giving with her family.
“You try to make a difference, you try to pay it forward,” Griss said, echoing Collins’ sentiments. “If we don’t help each other, then what’s it all about?”