Originally published in Yakima Magazine
By Molly Allen
We’re all familiar with the phrase “Home for the holidays.” Or the popular song “I’ll Be Home For Christmas.” But for some, gathering around the dining room table for a family meal isn’t always a reality. You may be taking turns between traveling and staying home, you may have recently moved to the area and don’t know anybody yet, or you may have never had children of your own. Any number of reasons can leave someone without a family to visit for the holiday season.
Thankfully, two local business owners are filling that gap, welcoming community members to join them for a family-style meal each Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas with their ‘Adopt a Family Into Your Heart For Life’ organization.
Kim and Connie Eisenzimmer, owners of Skateland and The Vine Venue, have hosted big holiday meals as far back as they can remember. But it wasn’t until 2012 that the family dinners became a mainstay at Skateland in Union Gap.
“We initially started inviting all of the friends we knew who were alone for the holidays to come and enjoy a meal in our home,” said Connie. “But over the years the group kept getting bigger and bigger, and eventually we knew we were going to outgrow our family dining room.”
The Eisenzimmers typically hosted 12 to 14 guests in their own home, but as the years went by, the couple recognized that there were more people who could be touched by their hospitality. They decided to move the holiday dinners to Skateland while the rink was closed for public sessions, allowing space for more people in the community to join in the holiday festivities — people who may not have any other family to share the holidays with. The Eizenzimmers wanted to make sure nobody in the Yakima community felt alone.
“The first year we held our holiday dinner at Skateland, we ended up renting tables and chairs. We set them all up in the middle of the rink,” said Kim. “We cooked a great meal and friends brought side dishes and desserts in crock pots.” But after the first year of hosting holiday dinner for the Adopt a Family group at Skateland for about 20 guests, it was clear to the Eisenzimmers that they were going to need a kitchen nearby. The couple takes care of preparing a menu including two turkeys, a potato dish, stuffing, a corn dish and Connie’s special green beans for each meal. “We cook all of the food for these dinners. But prepping the food at our home kitchen and transporting it to Skateland was difficult, and we knew we needed to come up with a better solution. We needed a kitchen,” said Connie.
The space now known as The Vine Venue was the solution. It’s a stunning boutique event space great for showers, birthday parties and even intimate weddings.
But at the time, Vine Venue, which is behind Skateland, was never intended to be an event venue. The space was renovated in 2013 solely for the purpose of providing a kitchen so that the Eisenzimmers could continue to host community dinners.
The couple knew they wanted the flexibility of a kitchen and a separate prep area, as well as a U-shaped seating area to allow people to talk and visit with each other. “I designed it as I would design my own home kitchen,” said Connie. “I designed it to share the space with others.”
One of the contractors who played a big part in the renovation was Cory Berg, a longtime Skateland patron. Berg and his wife had been attending the community dinners and had a vested interest in the project. Another couple, Patricia and Harold Byers, have been thankful to enjoy their holidays with the Adopt a Family Group because of the camaraderie it has provided.
“One of the best things about attending year after year is coming together with all of these people you wouldn’t normally get together with,” said Patricia. “We’ve established great connections and friendships and have built a family within the group that enjoys other life celebrations together. Plus, the food is always amazing!” Over time the Adopt a Family program has continued to grow. Attendance varies each year, but typically, 30 to 40 guests gather to enjoy a meal, and the Eisenzimmers have been thrilled to meet and to share dinner with people they probably would have never met otherwise.
“Over the years we’ve just kept spreading the word, inviting military members, people who have children living far away, anybody who needs a place to be for the holidays,” said Connie. “We’ve shared information with local churches and hotels, so anyone passing through town who can’t be home for whatever reason are able to join us. This is just what we do. We know there are people who need a place to go so they’re not alone, so we make it a priority every year.”
For Barbara and John Walden, these dinners have been a wonderful way to bring their family together, in addition to introducing their kids and grandkids to new friends in the Yakima community. “We wish something like this was happening when our kids were young, but we bring them and their own children now,” said Barbara. “We spent a lot of dinners at diners like Shari’s or Denny’s over the years. It’s great to have a home cooked dinner and to gather as a community.
Guests are welcome to join the group for dinner and to play games, participate in skating and maybe even indulge in a bit of karaoke throughout the evening. Invitations are not required to attend, as dinners are open to anyone in the community. Those interested in joining the group for dinner can find more information by searching ‘Adopt a Family Into Your Heart For Life’ on Facebook. “We open our doors for others for the holidays, and we always have plenty of room,” said Connie. “This has always been about listening to people’s needs and supporting and serving our community.”