Riverfolk’s main focus is to help people who are homeless obtain foundational documents like birth certificates and identification cards. But every Thanksgiving since 2016, the local nonprofit does something extra by hosting a feast at the Astoria Armory.
The event started as a way to offer the homeless a Thanksgiving meal, but last year 300 people attended, most of whom were not homeless.
“It’s snowballing into a very fun community event,” said Mary Docherty, Riverfolk’s founder.
She and her husband, Scott Docherty, organize the feast as a way of “building a bigger table” that integrates different parts of the community that might not otherwise intermingle.
“We’d like to see more single people, more people who don’t have anywhere else to go,” Scott Docherty said. “We’re happy to serve anyone who walks in that door. It makes it a nice atmosphere. It’s not a depressing soup kitcheny type thing ... it’s like a gigantic dining room that you would be at home. It’s awesome.”
This year, they have streamlined the event with the help of nearly 40 volunteers and local businesses.
“Rather than go to 20, 30 people to get individual casseroles, I went to the different restaurants and said, ‘Hey, can you donate 100 pounds of mashed potatoes prepared and delivered?’ And they did,” Mary Docherty said.
JBT Lektro Inc., Blue Scorcher Bakery & Cafe, AAA, Columbia Memorial Hospital, Fort George Brewery and Buoy Beer Co. have donated most of the food. Erickson Floral Co. donated flower arrangements for the tables.
“When we first started, we would have to hand out individual turkeys to friends and they would take them home, roast them, bring them back in the morning. And then we would have a carving station set up, which is a little hectic,” Mary Docherty said. “You have people running all over town with turkeys.”
Chef Phil Spencer at Smoked Bones BBQ offered to help organize the food.
“This was such a logistical nightmare for us before he jumped in,” Scott Docherty said.
This year, Spencer has also offered to cook all the turkeys, mashed potatoes and gravy.
“Before I started doing this I always did what I call a ‘misfit Thanksgiving,’” Spencer said. “I’m from the Chicago area, traveled all over, and in the restaurant industry if you’re not working chances are you don’t have the money to go see your family.
“So I would just make Thanksgiving dinner and have a bunch of people that didn’t have a place to go over. So I figured I’d do it on a bigger scale and help Mary out.”
Spencer is smoking 10 turkeys at Smoked Bones BBQ and roasting another 10 turkeys in Astoria Brewing Co.’s kitchen.
After the turkeys are done cooking, volunteers pick them up and take them to the Armory.
“Astoria is one of the best volunteer towns in the world, so it’s really not hard to get people inspired in this town to give. But we also get a whole bunch of people who don’t necessarily have the time or the inclination during the year that want to do something on Thanksgiving. It’s the perfect day for it,” Scott Docherty said.
At the event, everyone from children to local elected officials help serve the food, and Jeff Daly, the owner of Astoria Underground, is bringing Santa.
Racks of donated coats and other items will be available for people to take after they eat. Mara Dowaliby, the 2019 Astoria Regatta queen, organized a sock drive at Warrenton High School, so socks will also be provided.
“When all of the craziness and the work is done and you see all of these people sitting together, having a meal, it’s just wonderful,” Mary Docherty said. “It’s beautiful to see these guys come in out of the cold and relax. And they get to sit and talk and visit and everybody talks to them.
“When they’re on the street, they don’t get a lot of eye contact ... I just want them to feel like they’re part of a family.”
And they don’t waste leftovers. Most of the extra food goes to Filling Empty Bellies and the Astoria Rescue Mission.
“In my own world, I would like to see this every bit as important as the Regatta. I would like to see this as a thing Astoria does every year,” Scott Docherty said. “We don’t have to own it, we can pass it on, just as long as we do our part to make sure it becomes an institution here, because it’s a great thing to have.”