FEEDING THE COMMUNITY EVERY WEDNESDAY
While many of her cohorts in altruistic endeavors salute Terri Berkey Gonzalez for her efforts serving the Woodburn community, she reflexively deflects recognition and points out selfless acts of those around her.
Gonzalez has been pivotal in helping the Immanuel Lutheran Church community meal continue during the COVID-19 pandemic; the program has seen an exponential surge in the number of community members fed each Wednesday evening. But she prefers to emphasize the source and inspiration for the meal over her contributions.
“The key leaders who started this project 5 1/2 years ago are Kristi Stokley, Theresa Ellis and Shelly Shook,” Gonzalez said. “They initiated the idea and led the community meal — which began as a sit-down, dining-room experience that served 80 to 100 people weekly — for over four years.
“Then COVID hit and our team was concerned for the health and safety of the program, so (the people) who had worked tirelessly for over four years decided it was time to take a break. It was at that time I felt the strong prompt to see how we could continue the service in a grab-and-go format.”
That’s how it’s been for the past year and a half, and it is more popular than ever. Community members served Wednesday dinners rose into the hundreds. That’s meant getting more people involved as volunteers, and those watching it all come together credit Gonzalez for facilitating the growth.
“Terri is an everyday hero because she is a leader in the community, which includes her consistency in serving the underprivileged through hosting and coordinating community meals every Wednesday,” Woodburn-area businesswoman Gina Audritsh said. “Terri is consistently looking for opportunities to mend the gap between those who have and those who have not in our community, and she has brought together members of various ministries, businesses and other influential people that live and work in the Woodburn community to serve alongside her.”
Gonzalez said making the community meal work in the more pandemic-friendly grab-and-go format took help from others. She reached out to Shook and Ali Swanson, the latter a Woodburn city councilor and advocate for various charitable efforts.
“Over the course of the last year our service has exploded, and thankfully, we were able to sustain the program with grants, partnerships with the Latter Day Saints Church, Hubbard Ward, Pan de Vida Church and a number of community members,” Gonzalez said.
“Each week, we have between 20-30 people who volunteer their time to create the menus, shop, prepare, greet, serve, deliver and clean up.”
To be sure, it is a lot of work to serve dinner to 350-450 people in less than an hour and a half. But Gonzalez insists that she is not the hero; that title, she said, belongs to everyone who helps finance or lends a hand to make it happen.
But others know how meaningful Gonzalez is to the process.
“She is awesome. I have worked with Terri at the community meal at Immanuel Lutheran Church since I started helping serve last summer,” said volunteer Alyssa Nichols of Keizer. “She helped get it going and keep it going during COVID. She is a head leader for volunteers that we consistently look to for direction.
“Terri was probably one of the first people I met in Woodburn,” Nichols added. “She has this positive attitude and leader presence that very quickly presents herself as someone you can go to for guidance.”
Swanson, who has been formally recognized for her volunteer work with the homeless and downtrodden, marvels at the energy Gonzalez puts into similar pursuits.
“Terri is an amazing human being. She is kind and selfless, and in all my experiences with her, I have seen her dedicate her life and her actions to collaborate and mobilize efforts to help others,” Swanson said. “I’ve had the honor to work with and for Terri, and am blown away by the way she seamlessly navigates through red tape and impossibilities to deliver compassionate help as it is needed in and around Woodburn.
“Terri is a team leader,” she added. “She organizes, encourages and marshals the incredible efforts of volunteers each week. … She leads by example as she joins heartily; engaged to shop, cook, serve and clean. I admire that.”
Meanwhile, Gonzalez appreciates the volunteers — and welcomes more.
“We are always looking for more volunteers, groups who would like to partner. Some people volunteer monthly, others as they can, and some almost every week. We are so blessed,” Gonzalez said. “We also have some amazing bakers that supply homemade desserts each week, which our guests look forward to.”