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Behind the Scenes at Our 43rd Annual Harvest Dinner for Friendly House

by Mike Funke and Kristol Cohn

November 14, 2018

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On October 27, ESCO, a Weir Group Division, hosted the 43rd Harvest Dinner in coordination with Friendly House, a local nonprofit dedicated to creating a thriving community by connecting people of all ages and backgrounds. We sat down with Kristol Cohn, International Logistics Coordinator, and Mike Funke, Vice President, Global Supply Chain, to learn more about the event and the important role ESCO Division plays in giving back to community members in our neighborhood.


Kristol:  Mike, I know you’ve been involved with Friendly House in various ways. Can you tell us about your involvement with the organization and the role they play in the community?


Mike: Friendly House is a great local organization that offers services for neighbors in Northwest Portland and other parts of the Portland Metro area. Their programming centers on their core values: personal development, integrity, compassion, equity, reliability and vitality—all values we strive to live within our own company.


Harvest Dinner Logo Final 101218.pngI​’m just one of the many ESCO Division employees who has served on the Friendly House Board of Directors over the years. I’ve been on the Board for three years now and I’m also the auctioneer for their annual charity auction.


ESCO Division has long been a partner with Friendly House, primarily because they’ve traditionally been located right in our backyard in Slabtown and we value the opportunity to give back to our local community. One way we help support those in our neighborhood is through our annual Harvest Dinner, which I know you have experience volunteering at and planning, Kristol.


Kristol: Yes, the Harvest Dinner is an important event for our team. We’ve been hosting the dinner for 43 years now!


Mike: Kristol, could you tell us a little more about the Harvest Dinner?


Kristol: I have had the honor of leading it in years past, but for those unfamiliar, former ESCO employee Nick Santangelo started this dinner 43 years ago as a way to help the elderly members of Friendly House enjoy a holiday meal and festivities, especially since so many of them are homebound or may not have family members in the area to spend the holidays with. Thanks to Nick’s hard work and dedication to the cause, our company has been involved with hosting the annual dinner for decades.


We host around 200 older adults for the dinner, which generally takes place in November. The dinner includes not only a Thanksgiving-themed meal, but also entertainment of some kind, such as a choir or band, raffle prizes and goody bags that we hand out to guests before they head home. The bags include some basic necessities and fun surprise gifts.


Mike: There certainly are a lot of moving pieces to put together an event this large. Why do you think our employees enjoy volunteering at the event?


IMG_0348_edit.jpgKristol: Well, it’s a fun way to get involved. Most of our volunteers participate on the day of the dinner, but the planning and volunteer hours begin well before then! We have an outstanding planning team of employees who work for about 6-9 months to organize and make the event happen, including soliciting donations from local businesses to provide items for the goody bags and raffle, as well as donations for all the food, drinks and decorations. It’s a big project for our dedicated planning committee that puts a lot of work into the event months in advance.


We usually have 60-70 volunteers on the day of the event who will volunteer at different shifts doing different tasks. It’s fun that we’re able to get together as colleagues in a different environment to collectively give back to those in our neighborhood.


I usually volunteer well before the dinner begins and help put together the goody bags. I bring my kids to volunteer with me to show them how important it is to give back. Regardless of the work you end up doing and which shift you work, you can see the big impact the event has on our guests.


Mike: Tell us a little bit more about the guests who come to the dinner.


Kristol: We usually have about 200 older adults attend. Many of them don’t leave their houses often, so this provides them a fun opportunity to meet up with old friends or make new ones. Some attendees show up hours in advance just to make sure they get their spot at the dinner! Most guests have been coming for many years and really enjoy the interactions and entertainment that the dinner offers.


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Kristol: Mike, you have been a long-time supporter of Friendly House and volunteer at the Harvest Dinner. In your eyes, why is this such an important event for our company and our team, year after year?


Mike: The Harvest Dinner is a meaningful way for us to give back to the community that we have called home for so many years. Especially around the holidays, it’s amazing to be able to make a difference for those in our neighborhood. It’s become such a key event for our team, that many of our retired employees come back each year to volunteer. This year, I was pleased to see many of our new Weir colleagues, as well as their significant others, join us in hosting the event. It’s great to be able to roll up our sleeves alongside our colleagues, doing something positive in our community for those who need it. I’m grateful Nick started this event 43 years ago, thankful for volunteers like you, Kristol—and Sarah, Maylimi, Kathryn, Steve, Tammy and Daniel—and all of the others who work so hard to organize the event and that we’ve been able to carry on the tradition over these many years.