At 3 a.m on Thursday morning Jeannie Fanning went to the kitchen beneath the Kenai Salvation Army church to began preparing turkey for the Kenai Salvation Army’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner. At 7 a.m she was joined by students from Cook Inlet Academy who peeled potatoes and carrots. By 11 a.m the meal, consisting of the traditional turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, vegetable trays, and pie, was ready to serve to anyone who came through the doors of the church. This year’s Salvation Army dinner was the 13th that Jeannie, her husband Pastor Craig Fanning of the Salvation Army church, and congregation members Debbie and Paul Canevan, have organized and executed since 2001.
“When it started, we just gave out food boxes,” said Debby Canevan, who also manages the Salvation Army’s Family Services Center in Kenai. “But we wanted it were people who didn’t have anyone else to spend (Thanksgiving) with could come visit and enjoy a good meal. Anybody and everybody who wants to be with somebody, if they’re alone, or don’t have the means to get food, or a way to fix it — they can come and enjoy everybody’s company. I come every year so I can visit with the people that I see a lot of times through my work.”
Attendee Annie Lee agreed.
“This is nice to have here, for people who don’t have family,” she said. “It’s not just a free meal. That’s what this is really about — people who don’t have family can share the day. Not that we don’t know some of these people. We know most of them. It’s nice to see them here together.”
The meal was staffed by a rotating group of volunteers, many of them from outside the Salvation Army Church. Volunteers rotated in hourly shifts until the end of the meal at 2:00. Five servers worked at the cafeteria-style food line or brought guests drinks and pie for desert.
Stanton and Angela Kulich of Sterling have volunteered as servers at the past three Salvation Army dinners. Stanton, eating a meal after his shift, said that the event was “a credit to the community.”
The Kulichs aren’t members of the Salvation Army church. Angela was the one who had first involved gotten involved in the Salvation Army dinners. She couldn’t remember if she had seen the event advertised in a newspaper or hear about it at their own church.
“We’ve got no special reason for volunteering,” said Stanton. “There’s no big dramatic story. It’s just something we do. What goes around comes around.”
Doug and Brenda Bragg came with their high school-aged son JD to spend two hours volunteering as servers at the meal. This is the first year they have volunteered at the Thanksgiving meal. Doug said that the family has two older daughters who are away at college this year, and the three remaining family members wanted an activity that would bring them into new company.
“It was just a matter of being out of the house,” Doug said. “Thanksgiving’s about being among lots of people, not just being at home.”