Sultan Harvest volunteer Harvey Tatel shows Martin and Cristhian Alonso and Isabella Sandoval his train set.
Sultan Harvest volunteer Harvey Tatel shows Martin and Cristhian Alonso and Isabella Sandoval his train set.
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Dorothy Morris has long sat back to let someone else do the holiday cooking.

This year, the 93-year-old lifelong Sultan resident was one of hundreds who gathered to feast at Sultan High School on Thanksgiving. Volunteers spent the day, and day before, preparing huge hams, tremendous turkeys, bunches of green beans, piles of potatoes and more for the community members who came to give thanks at Sultan Harvest.

“I just appreciate what they do,” she said. “This is wonderful.”

Head chef Nita Lea and her husband Wayne took care of the fare. She said she bought hundreds more pounds of meat this year than the last to prepare for the expected annual increase in hungry patrons. In 2016, 601 meals were served. This year she anticipated around 700.

Each one of those in attendance had a different reason for spending their holiday among strangers, who felt more like family that day. 

Lead organizer Kristina Blair said about 475 people showed up in 2015. Usually the numbers increase by about 40 people per year. In 2016, attendance jumped to 601. She partially attributes the recent spike to the Sultan School District assisting in event promotion for the past few years.

Blair said Sultan Harvest had humble beginnings. The first feasts were cooked just outside Sultan City Hall. People ate in a small community room. Turkeys were closely tended on barbecues and dirty dishes were sent to outdoor cleaning stations, where water had to be boiled to wash pans, she said.

The event’s founding members were Gordon and Brett MacDonald, current Mayor John Seehuus, Dan and Rose Francis, Bart Dalmasso and Sultan’s grants and volunteer coordinator Donna Murphy, according to the city of Sultan. About 150 plates were finished off in 2001.

That was 16 years ago. This year, many of those people were either at other events or eating at a table instead of making sure things ran smoothly.

After about five years, attendance outgrew the original venue. Then festivities moved over to the Volunteers of America Western Washington Sky Valley Services A-frame building. Then again, after about the same timeframe, the gathering was again repositioned at the high school. School district superintendent Dan Chaplik offers the facility each year at no cost.

Blair, Lea, who is also the Sultan School District’s Food Services director, resident and business owner Michelle Tinney and soon-to-be Sultan City Councilmember Christina Sivewright are largely in charge.

Tinney said more than 100 volunteers are scheduled and show up throughout the day to work two-hour shifts. Many stay for the whole show.

Snohomish resident Sammie Pancake said this was her first year working the event. She said she heard about it through a fellow congregation member. She plans to come back every year for the foreseeable future.

“It has been wonderful to do this,” she said. “There are wonderful people and I have heard wonderful stories.”

In one corner this year turkey sandwiches were being made ready to go, and resident Dave Moon donated time and equipment so families could meet with Santa. Volunteers manned the tabletops piled with donated warm winter clothes. Anyone in need was welcome to pick up an apparel item.

Coordinators start to get ready for the feast and crowds months in advance. In addition to the material donations, about $900 in food and other supplies was spent this season, Blair said. Walmart and many local churches stepped up this year to help make it all happen.

Elianna Wilson and her parents Caitlin and Josh just moved to Sultan less than a year ago. Thursday was their first Sultan Harvest. They don’t have much family in the area, so they decided to try out the new community activity together.

“The food is great, the atmosphere is good, and it’s nice to have a safe, fun place to come for Thanksgiving,” Josh Wilson said.

The family sat at the same table where sisters Cindy Rallison and Linda Reed were taking a quick break from their duties as volunteers. Their plates were full of the various foods. The pair said they started coming to the Harvest together a few years ago. They usually stick around for the whole event. Cindy laughed and said she is in charge of the end-of-day mopping.

A few tables away, Murphy sat eating with Dalmasso. It was her longtime friend’s birthday. He was born in 1939, the same year President Franklin D. Roosevelt moved the date up one week. He believed the change would help retailers affected by the Great Depression make more money during the holiday season.

Murphy and Dalmasso shared memories from past Sultan Harvests. She said an unexpected bank employee helped her come up with a title for the gathering many years ago. While things were ramping up, she was in charge of opening an account for the funds, and was unexpectedly required to come up with a name for the event. She asked for help from the tellers, who began shouting out propositions. Upon hearing “Sultan Harvest,” she immediately knew it was a winner.

Year after year attendees are asked to sign a guest book, Murphy said. Some of the written words of gratitude are unbelievable, she said.

“It was an idea, it was just an idea, and look,” she said gesturing toward the filled tables.