Beaches staff, volunteers fill hungry tummies with hot Christmas meals

Food prepared for 2,000 with 1,250 meals delivered

Christmas morning, Mark Matthias was a man in perpetual motion. He and his crew at Beaches restaurants have a huge heart, serving the less fortunate over the holidays. A group of several dozen volunteers were part of the Herculean effort that Matthias coordinated, expecting to serve close to 2,000 hot meals on Christmas day at the Warehouse ‘23 location Matthias owns. 

The tradition began roughly four decades ago, with Chuck and Sandy Chronis serving the less fortunate hot meals on Thanksgiving at his downtown bar and restaurant. They were joined by their friend Rich Melnick to serve the first meals on Thanksgiving 1982.  They expanded to doing Christmas meals in 1998 according to one report.  

Matthias picked up the baton in 2017 according to his friend Dean Irvin, and has been doing it ever since. 

“The cooks were at it yesterday afternoon doing advance preparations, and then returning around 3 a.m.,” Irwin said. 

Several dozen volunteers showed up to either package the meals,or serve those who walked up or drove up. Several dozen others were the delivery service, driving meals all over Clark County.

Dozens of Santa’s helpers showed up Christmas morning, dishing up hot meals in take out containers that contained turkey, ham, potatoes, stuffing, gravy, green beans,a roll and an apple turnover. Photo by John Leyv Hell
Dozens of Santa’s helpers showed up Christmas morning, dishing up hot meals in take out containers that contained turkey, ham, potatoes, stuffing, gravy, green beans,a roll and an apple turnover. Photo by John Ley

“We have enough food for 2,000,” said Matthias. “We have 1,250 deliveries. That’s anywhere from 20 meals to 150 meals to a location. Sometimes it takes two drivers to just get out there. But it’s a real varied group from literally the homeless, to seniors and low income people, and veterans.”

There were roughly a dozen volunteers working in the kitchen, preparing the food or doing clean up. There were another 18 people working tables along two sides of a room, packaging up the cooked food in tin “to go” containers. Each container had turkey, ham, potatoes and stuffing, green beans, gravy, a roll, and an apple turnover.

These were initially loaded into industrial warmers. Later, volunteers emptied them faster than they were loaded. Meals slowly trickled out the front door, but moved rapidly out the back door into vehicles to deliver to numerous Clark County homes and facilities.

People could both walk up or drive up. Everyone was offered a grab bag of necessities that included a warm blanket, socks, a stocking hat, and an assortment of toiletries. They had a couple choices for a beverage, in addition to the meal in the tin “to go” container.

For the homeless, there was a covered tent with standing table areas they could eat, protected from the rain and elements. Most of the visitors drove up, comfortably served in the Warehouse ‘23 “roundabout” that serves the front door. Two or three volunteers took orders and hustled back and forth delivering the food containers, the beverages, and the grab bags of goodies.

Another group of volunteers worked as drivers. In the era of COVID-19, several Clark County groups that normally serve indoor meals were unable to do so this year, under current state guidelines. So Matthias devised another way — bring the food to these homes and facilities. For several days, they collected orders — 15 meals for this location, two dozen at another place, and 55 for one senior home, and created a delivery list. Drivers loaded up cars, vans, or trucks with the containers of food and ferried them to the various locations.

C-TRAN’s C-Van service even brought one lady using a walker to Warehouse ‘23, so she could pick up a needed meal. 

Back in the kitchen, Irvin explained the process. “Those chefs are magical guys. Just the way they process volumes of food and they never seem to be frazzled. They just make it work.”

They used to have sit down service, using disposable plates, cups and utensils.  COVID restrictions required everything be prepared “to go.” “This year you don’t get to smile and see the families,” said Irvin. “All the meeting and greeting is pretty much gone.”

Matthias shared his perspective on how it got started, and what they needed to do to adapt. “Cronis did this for 35 years and when he retired, it just went void for a year,” he said. “I contacted Rich Melnick and (former) Mayor Pollard said, I don’t want to steal it but we need to do this. We literally call it after him, (Chronis). So we started it here in 2017. We’ve had two years of sit down, restaurant style serving these people. 

“This year, we had to change the plan completely,’’ Matthias added. “But it’s doubled and tripled the amount we’re doing because now we’re going to them. The word got out that we would deliver, which we haven’t done in the past. We did 800 deliveries on Thanksgiving, and today we’ll do 1,250.

“This is actually easier for us because it’s very predictable. Whereas when you do it in the restaurant, you don’t know if you’re gonna get 400 or 800, because it’s all walk-ins. But that was nicer because we would serve the people and have that human interaction.” 

Matthias owns Beaches Restaurant and Bar on the Columbia River and at the Portland International Airport. He opened WareHouse ‘23 at the old Red Lion location in 2016.