For the past seven years, Steve Chamberlain’s pizza ovens do double duty around Thanksgiving.
Chamberlain, the owner of Charlie’s Pizza in Nikiski, lights up the ovens for a few days before the holiday to prepare free meals for nearly 200 people. Then, on Thanksgiving, he loads up about 80 meals and delivers them to the doors of the seniors in Nikiski who can’t make it out for his in-restaurant meal.
“Anybody in Nikiski can call,” Chamberlain said.
“We urge them to come on in and eat here, to keep our deliveries fairly minimal, but if they really need it, we’ll be glad to deliver it out to them. There’s no restrictions on age, disability or income.”
Back at the restaurant, a feast of turkey, ham, pies, yams and other traditional foods sees visitors of all backgrounds stop in for a meal, he said.
Being so near the oil fields, where many workers are single or far from home for the holiday, the meal provides a chance for them to be with others and have a home-cooked meal, Chamberlain said.
“We did get a few guys (from the oil fields), and they’re our regular customers — I know they’re single and their families are back south,” Chamberlain said. “I’m shooting to take care of them too. At the end of the day we’ll box (the leftovers) up or send it home with whoever we can. We take some to the Tesoro 2 Go out here, and down to the fire station.”
Chamberlain is among a host of local businesses hosting Thanksgiving dinners for those who either have nowhere to go, financial difficulty or no one to eat dinner with.
Dozens of businesses and organizations on the central Kenai Peninsula are hosting dinners, many on their own dime or donations. Besides the traditional event that organizations like the Salvation Army and the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank do, others are also opening their doors or providing ways for families to take dinner home with them.
Community members at the Sterling Senior Center put together food baskets for families to collect and take home. The community has been putting together the boxes for about five years and will also distribute food boxes at Christmas, said Michelle Walker, who coordinated the project. This year, the community distributed boxes to 52 families, she said.
Walker said the donations come from members of the community, churches, the Sterling Community Club and the Sterling Elementary School.
“The big organizations here in Sterling were big in helping,” Walker said. “It was definitely a real community effort.”
The senior center also hosts a Thanksgiving dinner on the day before the holiday each year, but for the first time, the center will be open on the day of Thanksgiving for a meal. A board member independently rented out the facility for those who want to come for a meal on the holiday, Walker said. The doors will open at 11:30 and the food will be served at noon, she said.
“It’s open to anyone,” Walker said. “They’re more than welcome to come and enjoy Thanksgiving dinner with us.”
For Chamberlain, the event is a family tradition. His two sons, who are 11 and 8, enjoy helping out every year, he said. Cooking for 200 people is easier than cooking for 20, he said, and the community has come to count on the event. Several members of the community donate the turkeys and so many donate pies that the restaurant barely has to worry about dessert, he said.
It’s not just Nikiski and the restaurant’s regulars that come, either. Last year, a family who was down on their luck and staying in a hotel temporarily heard of the event on the radio. They came in just as the restaurant was getting ready to close and were still able to have a Thanksgiving dinner together, Chamberlain said.
“It really felt good that we were able to take care of them,” Chamberlain said. “They were kind of down on their luck. And they were lucky enough to find a great meal for Thanksgiving.”
Reach Elizabeth Earl at firstname.lastname@example.org.