There was no shortage of options for those without family or the financial means to have a Thanksgiving meal this year. Local businesses and centers kept their doors open and the food flowing throughout the day.
The Kenai Senior Citizens Center began serving its Thanksgiving Potluck at 11:30 a.m. Thursday, and it was open to the residents of Vintage Pointe and local residents alike. Visitors were serenaded by live guitar music as they chose from a generous sampling of traditional holiday treats, from pumpkin pie and cranberry sauce, to turkey and green bean casserole.
Marilyn Bannock said even though she does not live at Vintage Pointe, she wanted to use the potluck as an opportunity to visit her friends that do.
“Our church family’s not meeting, and my son is working, and my daughter-in-law is in Anchorage with her family, and I didn’t want to stay home by myself,” Bannock said. “I’ve known (these friends) for years. We all grew old together.”
Doris Garrison, another member of the group, said it’s nice to have several choices of local Thanksgiving meals, as well as meals that start early in the day.
“Thanksgiving is a good one because it’s not always religious, yet it gets people together,” she said.
Down the Sterling highway, the smell of warm turkey drifted through the doors of the Kasilof Community Church. Volunteers filled plates for anyone who came by, members of the church or no. A sign on the highway directed people to the church.
The food was cooked at Rocky’s Cafe, the restaurant next door. After a successful year last year, the church decided to host the dinner again, and by 2 p.m. — an hour after the dinner began — already had to refill a stockpot full of mashed potatoes.
“It’s a really nice chance for anybody to come by,” said Randy Coleman, a Kasilof resident who helped out at the event.
One woman who had found the food bank was closed saw the sign on the highway and decided to stop in, he said. She was down on her luck and they were able to give her a place to go for dinner, he said.
“That’s what this is all about,” Coleman said.
This year the Sterling Senior Center served its first Thanksgiving meal to about 57 people. The center had previously delivered food boxes, but now opened its doors for the holiday as well. Senior Center Treasurer Rita Helleck, who with her husband Rocky Helleck rented the Senior Center hall and organized volunteers to prepare and serve the meal, said she didn’t know of any other community dinners in Sterling on previous Thanksgivings.
“There’s so many people alone on the holidays, and it’s a really hard time to be by yourself,” Rita Helleck said. “Suicides happen. So we thought if we could bring people together at the center, that would be a good thing. From the response we got, I’d say people enjoyed being together.”
Helleck said many people at the dinner were regulars at the senior center, but some were not. Some expressed their gratitude for the event, she said.
“I had one lady call me on the phone today and she said ‘I’m so glad you’re doing this. I’m all alone. Last year I sat with my paper plate in front of the television, and that was my Thanksgiving dinner. Now I’m so happy.’ That was nice to hear,” Helleck said.
The food, prepared by volunteers, was donated by the Kenai Food Bank.
In Nikiski, a longer-running tradition continued at Charlie’s Pizza, which hosted its fourth annual free community dinner. It was the first Thanksgiving at Charlie’s for Nikiski residents Clint and Rebecca Hampson and their daughter, Journey.
“Oven doesn’t work and Grandma’s out of town, so why not?” said Clint Hampson. He works for an oilfield support services company and said he normally spends Thanksgiving on the North Slope preparing ice roads.
This year he was off. Another unusual circumstance — the family’s broken gas oven — sent them to Charlie’s for dinner.
“Normally we’re inviting over our friends who don’t have very many family members, when we can cook and provide for them. But this year I couldn’t exactly say ‘Come on over!’” Rebecca Hampson said.
For other diners at Charlie’s, the event is their tradition. Will Roberts and Tanya Rittenhouse said they’ve been eating Thanksgiving meals there for several years, since a friend who works at the restaurant told them about it.
“Everything’s homemade too, hand-prepared and cooked and all that,” Roberts said. “…I really like his green bean casserole he makes.”
“The rolls are good,” Rittenhouse added. “Soft, fluffy, and sweet. Turkey’s pretty tender and moist. With brown gravy on top of the potatoes.”
By the time food was served at 3 p.m. Thursday, Charlie’s Pizza had also delivered 55 meals to seniors and others who weren’t able to come to the restaurant for dinner.
The food was prepared by the restaurant’s owner, Steve Chamberlain, with his wife, Jennifer Chamberlain, and their children, and by Charlie’s Pizza employees who worked that day as volunteers.
Other contributors included second graders at Nikiski North Star Elementary, who made construction-paper turkey place mats, turkey-donors Larry Minehart and M&M market, and the members of the Nikiski High School National Honor Society, who made pies.
Rebecca Hampson said in the future she may take part in the preparation herself.
“I’m thinking I may ask Ms. Chamberlain how I could help next year,” Hampson said.