In this November 2015 photo, a diner gathers a plate of food for the Thanksgiving meal at the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank’s Fireweed Diner near Soldotna, Alaska. (Photo by Elizabeth Earl/Peninsula Clarion, file)

Community organizations, volunteers offer Thanksgiving dinner

Not everyone has the traditional combination of family, food and friends for Thanksgiving within reach at Thanksgiving. Volunteers are stepping up to make dinner all across the central Kenai Peninsula to give everyone somewhere to go.

For many groups, it’s a regular annual event to put on a free community Thanksgiving dinner. Oil and gas producer Hilcorp will sponsor its annual dinner for seniors on Tuesday, two days before Thanksgiving, for area seniors 60 years old or older. The event, hosted at the Kenai Senior Center, began with oil and gas producer Unocal and bounced to Agrium and then to Marathon before coming to Hilcorp and regularly draws people from all over the peninsula, said Kenai Senior Center Director Kathy Romain.

“We get people from Homer,” Romain said. “I don’t know if anybody from Seward comes, (but) we get over 200 people here for that.”

The Senior Center itself has a community Thanksgiving potluck on Thursday beginning at 11:30, Romain said. The Nikiski Senior Center will also host a Thanksgiving Dinner at lunchtime on Wednesday, according to the center’s lunch calendar.

The Kenai Peninsula Food Bank hosts community meals every day at its Fireweed Diner. On Thanksgiving, it’s no different, though the cooks and volunteers prepare the traditional Thanksgiving fare for the meal. The Salvation Army in Kenai also annually hosts a meal.

Several religious organizations also host Thanksgiving dinners and luncheons around town. The Kasilof Community Church just off the Sterling Highway in Kasilof will host its annual Thanksgiving dinner from 12–3 p.m. The church members prepare and serve the food, and the public is welcome. The Our Lady of the Angels Catholic Church in Kenai hosts a Thanksgiving mass with a luncheon afterward as well.

For other groups, this Thanksgiving is their first foray into providing a community meal. Out at Solid Rock Bible Camp near Sterling, a group of volunteers will spend their Thanksgiving cooking a free meal for anyone who wants to come by from 11 a.m. until 3 p.m. Barb Blakeley, who is heading up the effort, said it was a group of community members inspired to give back rather than a formal organization.

“(It’s) not just for those that are less fortunate, but anybody who wants to come is welcome to come and have a free meal,” she said. “If you feel like you have to pay for something just drop some money in the box and we’ll donate it all to Freedom House.”

Freedom House, a sober living home for women in Soldotna, opened this year. Blakeley said the organizers wanted to support the home, which is a faith-based transitional living facility that has been largely supported by community donations and volunteering. Blakeley said the volunteers involved supported the organization and think it was a needed thing in the community.

Blakeley, who with her husband Norm Blakeley has presided over the St. Patrick’s Day parades in Soldotna in the past, said she has coordinated community events before but the Thanksgiving dinner will be new territory for her, but she was excited about being able to give back to the community.

“I’ve cooked Corned beef and cabbage for 400 but I’ve never actually done a full dinner for (large groups of people),” she said. “…It’s a great community, and that’s kind of what Thanksgiving is all about, just getting together and having a good time.”

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