Around 20 people were enjoying their turkey and pie at noon in the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank’s new dining hall on Wednesday, exchanging smiles and wishing each other a happy Thanksgiving.
Greg Meyer, the executive director of the food bank, said he wasn’t sure what to expect with the first in-house large meal since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down operations and the facility underwent renovations.
“We don’t know what to expect, so we’re trying to still be cautious on our limited seating,” he said before the Thanksgiving lunch started.
They usually see an uptick in donations at the food bank during the holiday season, Meyer said, but last week the donations skyrocketed. Hilcorp Alaska helped organize a food drive at a Brown Bears hockey game on Friday: free entry with a food donation.
“We got 3,700 pounds of food,” Meyer said. “That really made a huge difference for us to make sure everybody was taken care of.”
He said it was the single largest food drive the center has seen.
Cheryl Morse, the cook at the food bank, said the preparation for Wednesday’s holiday lunch took about three days.
“We started on Monday, prepping,” she said. “With lots of help I’ve been able to get it.”
Helping her serve on Wednesday were seven other volunteers.
Donna Cotman, one of the volunteers serving an array of pies during the lunch, said she’s been helping out at the food bank for about six years.
She said they had been able to accommodate both people who came to dine in, and for people who couldn’t make it to the food bank in person.
“We’ve been able to serve the people that have folks at home that are bedridden, so we can give them to-go (meals),” Cotman said.
Helping people get what they need is what keeps her coming back.
“I like to help people,” Cotman said. “I’m a nurse, and that’s kind of the way nurses are … I retired seven years ago and so I stepped in and started doing this. I love it.”
Meyer said on Wednesday that he’s been especially appreciative of the community this holiday season.
“I always want to express our gratitude, because we’ve had a tough couple years in the community and people just continue to step up and make sure that we can take care of everyone,” he said.