From left, Diane Somers, Cindy Todd and Barbara Cooper smile for the camera during the Thanksgiving community potluck at College Heights Baptist Church in Soldotna, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

From left, Diane Somers, Cindy Todd and Barbara Cooper smile for the camera during the Thanksgiving community potluck at College Heights Baptist Church in Soldotna, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

Church opens doors for community Thanksgiving

Many of the guests went around their tables and shared what they were thankful for this year.

The uniquely American holiday of Thanksgiving has people taking stock every year of the things for which they are most grateful. It’s also a holiday centered around food, as family and friends gather together to share a meal, break bread and pass the stuffing.

For many Native Americans, the holiday is recognized as a Day of Mourning as they reflect on the suffering of their ancestors that coincided with the arrival of the original colonists.

For the members of the College Heights Baptist Church, this Thanksgiving was an opportunity to open the church doors and invite the community to a potluck dinner — a first according to Contessa Wolverton, who originally brought the idea to her fellow churchgoers.

“We usually donate food every year but this year we decided to do something a little different,” Wolverton said. “We’ve got a group of people here that are just really committed to serving their community.”

There were more than 50 people lined up for food or seated around tables in the church hall this Thanksgiving. Organizer Connie Combs said she was pleased with the turnout.

“I see a lot of our church family here, but there’s also quite a few new faces, which is always good to see,” Combs said.

The menu covered all the traditional bases: turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole and pumpkin pie for dessert. Also featured were a few unique items, including a pineapple and cheese casserole and a “harvest punch” made by church member Priscilla Tapangco, which was a cider made with Honeycrisp apples, cinnamon and ice cream.

Tapangco said that she and others jokingly referred to the community potluck as an “Orphan’s Thanksgiving.”

“There’s a lot of people around here that might have family living far away, so this is a good opportunity for those folks to come in and feel at home, even if they don’t know anyone,” Tapangco said. “I’m so thankful for this church and its community. I’ve never met so many people who care so deeply about serving others.”

Many of the guests went around their tables and shared what they were thankful for this year, including Carol Kvasnikoff, who also expressed her gratitude to the church for hosting the dinner.

“I’m thankful for the people and community God has placed in my life,” Kvasnikoff said. “This is a wonderful place to be, and doing things like this really brings people together.”

Three-year-old Allison Karron kept her list of things to be thankful for a little shorter: “Food and cookies!”

Cindy Todd also kept her answer concise: “I’m thankful for Trump.”

Jessica Siegersma and her daughters Elizabeth, Rebekah and Ally said they were thankful for their new puppy and for being able to spend the day with their church family.

“I’m also thankful that my grandparents are coming to visit for Christmas,” Elizabeth added.

“And I’m thankful for Pandora,” Rebekah said.

Billy Yoder gave a shoutout to those who aren’t able to celebrate Thanksgiving with their loved ones.

“Like most, I’m thankful for friends and family,” Yoder said. “But I’m also thankful for everyone serving overseas right now, and everyone that’s working today. It’s tough to have to be away from your family, and I hope they know they’re appreciated.”

From left, Jessica Siegersma, Ally Sigersma, Rebekah Seigersma, Elizabeth Siegersma and Josiah Huckaby smile for the camera during the Thanksgiving community potluck at College Heights Baptist Church in Soldotna, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

From left, Jessica Siegersma, Ally Sigersma, Rebekah Seigersma, Elizabeth Siegersma and Josiah Huckaby smile for the camera during the Thanksgiving community potluck at College Heights Baptist Church in Soldotna, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

From left, Connie Combs, Brent Takak, Andrea Combs, Don Combs, Finley Combs, Clint Hagel, Jennifer Hagel and Billy Yoder smile for the camera during the Thanksgiving community potluck at College Heights Baptist Church in Soldotna, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

From left, Connie Combs, Brent Takak, Andrea Combs, Don Combs, Finley Combs, Clint Hagel, Jennifer Hagel and Billy Yoder smile for the camera during the Thanksgiving community potluck at College Heights Baptist Church in Soldotna, Alaska, on Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

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