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It is the deep fryer to the great American melting pot. Oak Harbor's Community Harvestfries androasts 200 turkeys and smokes 700 pounds of ham for a Thanksgiving feastbefitting this working class community.

It's like backyard cooking for an aircraft carrier, said executive chefScott Fraser, of Frasers Gourtmet Hideaway.

The 4,000 free meals werehanded outThanksgiving Day at the Elks Lodge, another 1,000 were delivered to cops, grocery workers, emergency dispatcers, hospital workersand the eldery.

And while the food is outstanding, that isn't what this is all about. Community is the main course.

We have people that are poor. We have people that are rich. We have two people who met here and actually got married, said organizer Scott Fisher.

It all started 12 years ago when local deli ownerKeith Bartlett and some buddies were having a few beers and wanted to do something to bring this military town together in the wake of 9/11.The goal wasn't just to feed the poor or homeless. It wasto nourish the entire community.

Everyone is welcome here to volunteer orjust toeat a free meal. And just about everyone turns out.Three doctors from Whidbey GeneralHospital carved up turkeys.

Surgery takes on a whole new meaning when you're doing this, joked Dr. Paul Zaveruha.

Judge BillHawkins doled out dollops of mashed potatoes instead of justice toJeff Pangburn, a local homeless man, whom the judge knew by name.

Addicts sat next to theelderly, the privileged next to the poor. All of them broke bread as part of an extended family.

I'm glad to see the community coming together because we're not a community if no one helps out, said Pangburn.

The purpose, organizers say,is to let everyone in Oak Harbor know they are valued. Vera Ann Olsen celebrated her 100th Thanksgiving with her family to a round of applause, while an elderly man sat eating by himself. He wasquickly spotted and joined by ayoung woman dressed as a clown. The two were soon laughing and exchanging storieslike a father and daughter.

This is why we are here, said orgaizerJack Stiltz. We want to build this community up and bring people together.

Founder Keith Bartlett died on Thanksgiving Day three years into this project. Each year sinceit has gotten bigger and better,nowwith 350 volunteers and a budget of $17,000 -- all of it donated from the community.

And to think this all started with a few friends having a few beers, said TJ Fisher, another one of the legion of volunteers. We'd love for other cities to do this. Any town can. You've just gotta have the heart.

Oak Harbor organizers are happy to teach other communities how to get started. They're also accepting donations and volunteers for next year's feast. Anyone interested should contact them at 360-240-9338 or at Bay Printing 1131 SEEly Street, Oak Harbor, 98277.

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