For the past 35 years on both the day before Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve, Barb O’Neill has been preparing meals for the poor, homeless and lonely in Olympia, Washington. This effort started in the kitchen of her home in 1970 with 60 people showing up the first year. O’Neill continued serving dinners at her home for ten years, but when the crowd grew to more than 400 she was forced to move to a new location.
Under Ms. O’Neill’s leadership this grassroots effort grew into a nonprofit organization—Barb’s Family and Friends. Through the nonprofit, Barb was able to accept donations from community residents and local business to help support this important community need which had grown far beyond her personal financial contributions. “This is no longer my problem; this is the community’s problem,” said O’Neill.
Barb’s Family and Friends not only prepares meals for more than 2,000, but also engages 200 volunteers to serve meals and deliver dinner to those who cannot attend due to illness, infirmity or even lack of transportation. Over the years Barb has added new services to help those less fortunate. In conjunction with the annual Christmas Eve dinner, Barb’s Family and Friends operates Santa’s shop and a kids’ boutique to give low-income families an opportunity to select free gifts and warm clothing.
O’Neill is a dedicated and compassionate volunteer who develops solutions to serious community problems such as hunger, homelessness and loneliness.