Cafe owner invites her town to dinner — for free

SNOHOMISH — Susan Williamson doesn’t host a typical family Thanksgiving at home anymore.

She spends the holiday busy at her downtown Snohomish restaurant, where anybody is invited to dine — for free. Williamson has expanded her family to take in the whole town.

“There are a lot of people who don’t get to do Christmas or Thanksgiving at the same time” as their relatives, she said.

The tradition at Twin Eagles Cafe on First Street has been ongoing for 10 years, since Williamson took over the event after a pub down the street stopped hosting it. Beyond a nice gesture to the community, it raises money for the local food bank. It typically nets $800 to $1,000.

“We ask that if you have the means, you donate to the food bank,” said Tiffany Francis, a waitress who helps run the restaurant.

On Thursday, the booths and tables at this authentic, small-town breakfast-and-lunch spot were mostly full, from late morning into the afternoon. There were regulars and first-timers. A few were food-bank clients. Most weren’t.

“It’s not just for people who are homeless or don’t just have any place to go,” Francis said.

Talking to diners, it was obvious they were getting more than just sustenance.

Lorie and Todd Bolduc moved to the Snohomish area from Florida in 1997. They love it here, but they’re not within easy reach of family.

That’s why Lorie, a gift shop owner, and Todd, an engineer, began coming to the Thanksgiving meal about four years ago. The cafe also happens to be a regular hangout.

“My husband and I come here every weekend,” she said. “We love it.”

The Bolducs and others were quick to praise everything Williamson does for Snohomish, year round.

“She has blessed this town with her presence for the whole time she’s been here and she’s loved by all,” said Sean McCrary, 56, of Snohomish, who was volunteering in the kitchen.

McCrary’s story about meeting Williamson is similar, if not identical, to the ones other friends tell: “I came here for breakfast one morning.”

Tim Johnston, 57, a regular who lives in the apartments above the cafe, said: “The first time you walk in here she makes you feel at home.”

Thanksgiving preparations at the Twin Eagles Cafe get serious about a week beforehand. Volunteers like Nancy Lemon, 61, of Snohomish, collect donated food and prepare to get to work.

On the eve of the feast, they bring turkeys home and cram their ovens. Lemon cooked three.

“Everybody is very generous,” she said. “The community is generous. The churches are generous.”

By mealtime Thursday, they had two dozen cooked turkeys, 600 deviled eggs and an estimated 200 pounds of mashed potatoes. Sausages, rolls, green-bean casserole, pie and other standards filled out the spread.

Leftovers are donated to shelters.

Williamson, 56, said she feels strongly about giving to food banks. As a single mom, she had to rely on one in Brier, where she lived before moving to Snohomish more than 20 years ago.

The Snohomish Community Food Bank serves an average of 280 people per week, executive director Elizabeth Grant said. Donations are organized in the form of shopping trips with deliveries for people who are homebound.

The food bank also provides a special Thanksgiving program, giving out whole turkeys or chickens. This season, administrators were surprised by how many people asked for help.

“We were anticipating 400 this year and 490 signed up,” Grant said.

This week, at least 40 more people walked in to their downtown Snohomish building looking for assistance.

Grant believes the increased demand owes to recent cuts to food stamps distributed through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as SNAP.

The food bank, founded in 1982, serves people who live within the boundaries of the Snohomish School District. It relies on volunteers, who number more than 150, as well as grants and donations.

Restaurants, grocery stores, farms and auto dealers are among the businesses that contribute food and cash.

“It’s incredible,” Grant said. “My position in this community is I get to stand in this place looking at so many people doing so much good work.”

The truly homeless are a tiny fraction of the clientele. Many, until recently, had long-term steady jobs.

“These are people’s next door neighbors, upstanding people who are in a bad spot temporarily,” Grant said.

The food bank will be looking for volunteers and donations to help provide Christmas groceries, including hams, for families in need.

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

Help the food bank

Twin Eagles Cafe’s annual Thanksgiving dinner benefited the Snohomish Food Bank, which is looking for volunteers and donations for its Christmas program.

More info: call 360-568-7993, email director@snohomishfoodbank.org or go to www.snohomishfoodbank.org.

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