When the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown his Silverton restaurant in 2020, rather than feel sorry for himself, Joel Autry saw the opportunity for community service, an ethic modeled by his parents.
He opened his heart and pantry up to local residents hurt financially by the economic slowdown or folks who had relied on Silverton’s weekly community dinner, also closed by the pandemic.
More than two years later, Autry, community dinner coordinator Cherry Arbuckle Hoffman and a dozen “extremely dedicated” volunteers continue to provide free, wholesome and tasty meals weekly to those in need with “We All Dine in Silverton!”
Due to his concern over food insecurity Autry also serves on the board of Silverton Area Community Aid (SACA).
Autry will give the keynote address, “Building Community Through Service and Sensitivity,” for the 20th Annual Silverton MLK Observance, Monday, Jan. 16 at 6 p.m. at Silverton Grange, 201 Division St. Doors open at 5:30 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.
The annual event features a community potluck, sing-a-long and readings honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Southern cuisine dishes he was fond of have become popular event staples. Facemasks are strongly encouraged; donations welcome and will be split between SACA and the Grange. For more event information call 503-873-5307 or visit silvertongrange.org.
A recent column by Autry (in the Nov. 15 edition of Our Town) spotlighted “firsts” – minorities assuming significant leadership positions in politics and society. It was an indication, he wrote, that our culture is changing for the better. To anyone who might complain he is “just talking about race,” Autry bluntly states he is. With racial issues, it is very important, he says, to ask people to consider points of view different from their own, especially those from people of color, and with gender equity issues, other minorities as well (Autry served on the Portland-based Equity Foundation which funded local LGBTQ initiatives).
Without “hitting people over the head” but through candid observations, Autry hopes to promote the environment he remembers in his fourth grade class growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
“We were different people coming together with our differences, learning how to get along with each other,” he recalled. That atmosphere of tolerance, respect and affection between classmates created a life-long bond with his fourth grade fellow students and teacher, Mr. Rhuter.
“He made all students feel important and cherished each relationship,” Autry said.
“We all Dine in Silverton!” also allows Autry to build community through the sharing of food.
Great home-cooked meals that bonded his family inspired Autry to co-own the Silver Grille restaurant for a time, and later open the Silverton Wine Bar and Bistro. Like his mother, he wanted to make good food the centerpiece for socializing.
“Mother was an excellent cook. Meals were always a time for community and socializing,” Autry recalls. He treasured his role welcoming people into his restaurants and socializing with them.
Though now working full time in another sector, Autry makes time to do the community meal’s menu planning and shopping. He is grateful to individual donors and Mt. Angel Sausage Co. for funding the program. By keeping the kitchen open to those in need – and opening minds through his columns – Autry hopes he is doing his part so no one feels denied a seat at the community table.