Not just eating – it’s dining

July 2021 Posted in Community

By Melissa Wagoner

Co-founder Joel Autry

Co-founder Cherry Arbuckle Hoffman

Joel Autry can’t stand to see good food go to waste. And so, when his restaurant, the Silverton Wine Bar, began generating what could have been a heap of wasted food due to the operating restrictions handed down in the winter months of 2020 – he knew he had to come up with a plan. 

“When I was still operating the Wine Bar and they let us open for takeout there was always leftover food because I had to be prepared,” Autry said. 

That’s when he remembered that it wasn’t just restaurants being restricted due to COVID-19. Community meals – like those held at various churches throughout Silverton, including the Silverton First Christian Church, where Autry volunteered with longtime friend and Wednesday Night Dinner founder Cherry Arbuckle Hoffman – had been shut down as well. 

“Joel called me and said, ‘I know you well enough to know you’ve got to be doing something,’” Arbuckle Hoffman, a chaplain for the past 15 years, recalled in an interview with Our Town not long after the two reconnected. 

Autry was right. Through the church, Arbuckle Hoffman had been helping organize the distribution of food boxes, but Autry thought they could do better. 

“I said, ‘I’m in,’” Arbuckle Hoffman remembered. Adding, “That first week I delivered seven or eight boxes.”

Since then, We All Dine in Silverton – as the grassroots effort has come to be known – has delivered hundreds of meals with the help of an ever-revolving team of volunteer chefs and delivery persons.

“This week we did 90 dinners,” Autry said. The group prepares food for people in need of a hot, nutritious and tasty meal delivered directly to homes as well as to Silverton’s homeless resource center. 

“That’s really been Cherry,” Autry said of the team’s methods for amassing each week’s list of recipients – which is ever-changing. “She’s connected that way. We’ve also got fliers up at Roth’s and the community centers and we get referrals; someone will call and mention that someone’s in need.”

There are no criteria when requesting a meal. No forms to be filled out. No financial need must be established. 

“We just feed them,” Autry said simply. 

“He’s a huge-hearted man,” volunteer Mary Coleman pointed out. “We are so lucky to have him in our community. The meals are offered to ‘anyone in our community needing a boost’. Those are Cherry’s words.  ‘Needy’ has many definitions.”

And that sentiment, above all else, is what has kept both Arbuckle Hoffman and Autry going strong nearly a year after putting the first handful of meals together. 

“Who knew how this would turn out?” Autry laughed, recalling the early days when the number of volunteers was restricted by the size of the Wine Bar’s kitchen. 

Now, Autry welcomes as many volunteers as show up every Monday and Tuesday at 10 a.m. in the kitchen of the Immanuel Lutheran Church in Silverton. The crew fluctuates between three and five volunteers – with 10 regulars who come when they can. They get right down to business, cooking meals ranging from teriyaki beef stir-fried with ramen to split pea soup and ham over rice. 

“I want to make sure that when people eat the food, that there’s some effort that went into making it,” Autry emphasized. “I’ve seen soup kitchens where the attitude is ‘at least they have something to eat’.”

That way of thinking is decidedly not what Autry is all about. 

“I’m trying to preserve or elevate someone’s dignity who’s having a hard moment,” he described. 

“Joel believes that every person deserves to eat a hot, nourishing meal, preferably made from scratch with healthy ingredients,” Coleman added. “Hence, the name ‘We All Dine in Silverton’.  Not ‘eat’ but ‘dine.’ Subtle difference.”

Thus far his efforts have proven successful, recently earning recognition by the Silverton Chamber of Commerce for Distinguished Service by a Group for 2020.

“Joel and his group have dedicated themselves to providing healthy meals for those in need in Silverton,” nominator Darby Hector, wrote in her letter to the Chamber. “Food insecurity is a definite problem and this group is working hard to help provide healthy meals to whoever needs help.”

These are sentiments the group’s volunteers share as well.  

“They do a lot of work no one else was willing or able to do during the pandemic,” volunteer Vivienne Frankel said. “So many sick and shut-in families were served by them.”

“Many in our area experiencing hard times are fortunate to have Joel Autry thinking and working on their behalf through We All Dine in Silverton,” fellow volunteer Donna Mattson agreed. “Joel’s creation is not just a ‘soup kitchen.’ Joel spends time creating meals to feature and enhance donations, he spends time driving, shopping and prepping… cooking and portioning, storing and delivering food to those in need.”

There is more to the process of cooking nearly 100 meals each week than what takes place in the kitchen. First, there’s the need for funding.

“The funding happens organically,” Autry said. Thus far they have avoided applying for nonprofit status due to the costly, time-consuming nature of the process. 

“People just give us money or food. Jim at the Mt. Angel Sausage Company has been very generous. It’s always been true about this community; that people are very generous.”

“Whether you volunteer one day or one hour, it all counts,” Autry said. “It’s all part of the intangible thing that is this effort – and it’s an important effort.”

We All Dine in Silverton

For info about We All Dine in Silverton search on Facebook or Immanuel Lutheran Church 303 N. Church St., Silverton, Monday and Tuesday at 10 a.m. 

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