Thanksgiving Eve a community tradition at Stayton café

Human Interest

Covered Bridge Café has put on a free dinner for 14 years

STAYTON, Ore. (KOIN) — When Cari Sessums and her cousin bought the Covered Bridge Café in Stayton in 2006, they wanted to continue the Thanksgiving tradition started by its previous owner: The cafe threw a community dinner for those who needed it.

Now, 14 years later, the tradition not only continues. It’s a labor of love, a thriving special event that brings hundreds of people together from all walks of life.

And that’s the point.

On Wednesday, the Covered Bridge Cafe will be closed for breakfast and lunch but the place will be packed.

The Covered Bridge Café in Stayton puts on a free community meal each Thanksgiving Eve, November 25, 2019 (KOIN)

“We love it and we got it down pretty good,” Sessums told KOIN 6 News. “I mean, Amy Frazier, it’s our 14th year. We’ve got it down, you know?”

They’ll have 580 pounds of turkey breast, buckets of butter, cases of corn and stacks of rolls.

“Here’s the thing: We own a restaurant. We have food. No one should not have something to eat every day, no matter what,” she said. “We’ve always believed that.”

The community dinner also has another big ingredient. It brings people together as one.

“Here’s the thing: We own a restaurant. We have food. No one should not have something to eat every day, no matter what. We’ve always believed that.”

“Some people don’t need the food. They just need to be with someone. We have customers say to us, ‘You’re the only people I talked to today.’ I mean, what the heck?”

Sessums said “you might be sitting next to the guy who sleeps under the bridge or you could be sitting next to the sheriff. You just don’t know, and that’s, for me, that’s the magic.”

Donations from businesses and neighbors helps make the free meal possible. So do cafe employees and dozens of volunteers, like Kathi Kent.

The Covered Bridge Café in Stayton puts on a free community meal each Thanksgiving Eve, November 25, 2019 (KOIN)

“You think you’re blessing the other guy but you soon figure out that you got the blessing from,” Kent said. “That’s how volunteering works.”

The first 5 years of the community dinner, Sessums said, they prayed about having enough money to cover the dinner. But they get so many community-wide donations now there is sometime money left over. And that money is donated to the local food bank or other things to help the community.

On Wednesday evening the Covered Bridge Cafe dining room will be filled with decorations, special tables and community. About 1000 people will come into the cafe that night.

The Covered Bridge Café in Stayton puts on a free community meal each Thanksgiving Eve, November 25, 2019 (KOIN)

They have enough food to do about 1500 meals, and typically several hundred of them are boxed up by volunteers to be delivered. The Stayton Police Department then delivers them to people who might have a hard time making it to the cafe.

Cari Sessums, left, and her cousin are co-owners of the Covered Bridge Cafe in Stayton, November 25, 2019 (KOIN)

For Cari Sessums, being kind and sharing yourself “with someone, no matter what they need, is really what makes people feel good. It just kind of creates that community.”

It’s a lot of work, but she said it’s amazing. “It’s always warm and funny and a little crazy, a little crazy, but is all so much fun.”

The community dinner at the Covered Bridge Cafe begins at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The Covered Bridge Café in Stayton puts on a free community meal each Thanksgiving Eve, November 25, 2019 (KOIN)

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