O’Neill family dinner is a lasting holiday tradition

The OlympianDecember 2, 2013 

Event organizer Rodney O'Neill (right) introduces his daughter, Daisy, as she prepares to lead the opening prayer for the annual Barb's Family and Friends free holiday meal at the United Churches in Olympia on Wednesday, Nov. 27, 2013.

TONY OVERMAN; STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

YAY: O’NEILL DINNER

This year marked the 44th time that the O’Neill family has hosted a turkey dinner in Olympia on the day before Thanksgiving. The event sponsored by the nonprofit group Barb O’Neill’s Family and Friends is as remarkable for the number of people who show up to volunteer — 200 to 300 — as it is the number of people served a meal — close to 2,000.

When Barb O’Neill died on Jan. 1, 2008, there were questions about the future of the community meal she started all those years ago. Well, the O’Neill family has kept the tradition alive and then some.

A steady stream of people gathered at the United Churches in Olympia for a generous plate of holiday food served in an atmosphere of family and fellowship. Barb O’Neill would be happy and proud to know the Thanksgiving Dinner she created still brings joy to so many.

BOO: SWINE FLU

Turns out the 2009 swine flu epidemic was a lot more deadly than initially reported. World Health Organization researchers have upped the death toll to some 203,000 people, which is more than 10 times the original tally. On that note, it’s not too late to get a flu shot for this flu season.

YAY: VETS AT TESC

This may come as a surprise to some: The Evergreen State College has landed on the U.S. News and World Report’s national list of top 10 colleges for veterans. The Olympia college ranked eighth and Saint Martin’s University ranked 16th on the list. The news arrived just as TESC officials prepared to open their new Veterans Resource Center on campus.

BOO: VANDALISM

Several downtown Olympia buildings suffered vandalism recently at the hands of self-proclaimed anarchists. Anyone with information about this cowardly and mindless act should call the Olympia Police Department at 360-753-8300.

YAY: O BEE CREDIT UNION

Throughout the past summer, the folks at O Bee Credit Union sold custom, beer-themed T-shirts at community events around Thurston County. The $5,000 raised was turned over to South Puget Sound Habitat for Humanity the day before Thanksgiving at Habitat for Humanity’s store in Yelm. The money will support Habitat’s worthy cause, which is partnering with low-income families to build them affordable homes.

YAY: TEXAS TEEN

Kenbriel Hearn, an 18-year-old football star, suffered two strokes and spent three weeks on life support last summer. He still faces a long and challenging road to recovery, but the journey included a bright moment last week when he joined his teammates in the huddle, took a handoff and jogged — he can’t run yet — 48 yards for the most memorable touchdown of his three-year high school career. Never mind that the opposing team offered no resistance in the final minute of a game that was well in hand. Just to reach pay dirt after all he’s been through had to make Hearn feel great.

BOO: STATE EXCHANGE

After some initial time in the limelight as a model state health exchange when compared with the federal one, our program has been under fire of late.

More than 67,000 of the 176,000 calls from state residents shopping for health care insurance in October were “throttled,” which means they were told to call back later. Another 44,000 were put on hold long enough that callers chose to hang up.

Officials with the Washington Health Benefit Exchange have some work to do to improve customer service in the face of a heavy volume of calls.

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