Community Dinners Help Darrington Residents Cope With Landslide

Apr 7, 2014

The first wave of memorial services honoring the victims who perished in the Oso landslide took place this weekend. In Darrington residents gathered to remember Linda McPherson, a longtime resident and librarian. After the service the community gathered for a meal together, a special tradition for the community. 

Darrington Community Center hosted a meal for librarian Linda McPherson as part of the community's long-running tradition.
Credit Ruby de Luna / KUOW

The kitchen inside Darrington Community Center is a hive of activity. About half a dozen women are pulling food hot out of the oven. There are pans of pulled pork, chicken, casseroles, and other donated food that will feed the people who've come for the service.

In the background, 81-year-old Ernestine Jones stands and watches the kitchen orchestration. The funeral dinners, as they've come to be known, go all the way back to the '50s. They started out of necessity.

“There was no place for people to eat after a funeral. There’s a little burger bar, and I think they have food at the tavern sometimes,” says Jones.  

So the community hosted funeral dinners for the families. Ernestine Jones is one of the volunteers who organizes, cooks and serves these meals. Jones says no one leaves hungry or empty-handed.

“There’s possibly a lot of leftover food today. We take that and box it up and send it home with the family,” says Jones.

Jones is one of the early members of the funeral dinners. She admits she never liked to cook. She doesn't think she's good at it, but she continues to do it anyway because it brings comfort and it's worth it.

“It’s not something that you go pull out of a box and heat up. You peel those potatoes and it’s worth the time to make it taste good,” says Jones.  

The dinners started out for funerals, but over the years, they've become a regular community get-together, says Carol Massingale. 

“Sometimes we have a Happy Day Celebration for all of us to get together. We have an auction and that also helps raise money for the funeral dinners. It’s a happy time, instead of a funeral time,” says Massingale.  

And the tables get filled easily. When a funeral dinner is scheduled, word gets out fast.

“We call our ladies. Then each one of the ladies has a list. They call about seven to eight people and all those people bring a dish,” says Massingale.  

But today's funeral dinner is different. Nearby communities donated food and home-cooked meals. Arlington residents came to help out and provide additional support. At the kitchen sink Cyndi Pugh is washing pans and helping clean up. She remembers Linda McPherson's kindness. 

“When a bunch of us started homeschooling our students Linda was fabulous and making sure that the library was open before library time for us to teach classes. She taught a couple of classes for us, the Dewey Decimal system and things,” says Pugh.  

Pugh started volunteering at the funeral dinners in 2004 after a car accident. Initially it was for physical therapy, a way to get exercise for her hand. But she's become a regular since then.

Pugh says the dinners bring comfort to families. Two years ago she found comfort too, when her brother passed away.

“When you’re with people that are grieving and you’re helping them, you’re healing yourself and them. So this is where we come," says Pugh.

Pugh says they can't make the pain go away, but through food they can make sure families are sustained through this tough time.

Copyright 2014 KUOW