When enjoying a Thanksgiving meal with family or friends at home isn’t a possibility, residents of the Kenai Peninsula have no shortage of options when it comes to getting their holiday fix. Businesses and centers continued the tradition of opening their doors and their ovens to feed any families that fell through the cracks
Residents on the central peninsula got to dig into stuffing, potatoes and pie at 11:30 a.m. during the Kenai Senior Citizens Center’s annual potluck. Dave Merrill, one of about seven volunteers, said they expected to feed between 40 and 45 people Thursday. People of all ages are welcome at the feast, he said, and people tend to come for the sense of camaraderie that fills the place.
When asked why volunteers come back year after year to host the meal, Merrill answered that it simply “feel(s) good.”
One newcomer to the potluck was Bob Bedwell, who heard about the meal from a friend and decided to attend to get to know the community a little better. A veteran of the Navy who served in 1972-73, Bedwell relocated to the central Peninsula earlier this year after his home burned down in Anchor Point, so getting to know his neighbors has been a priority, he said.
Enthusiasm for the community meal was no less strong down in Kasilof, where Pastor James Walsh said people arrived before the Kasilof Community Church even swung its doors open at 1 p.m. The church has organized the meal in partnership with the Kasilof Mercantile for the last three years at least. Travis and Junie Steinbeck, owners of the Kasilof Mercantile, donate and cook the turkey and other meats.
“People I talked to said they really appreciated us doing this, and really appreciated the opportunity to come and just sit down and have a good meal and talk to people they didn’t know,” Walsh said.
The Steinbecks said they in turn appreciate the work the church put in terms of making side dishes and desserts, which takes some of the pressure off. They expected to feed between 75 and 100 people Thursday, and it seemed this year’s turnout was busier than last, they said.
The annual meal served at Charlie’s Pizza in Nikiski has drawn enthusiastic crowds for about eight years. This year’s dinner was the last of it’s kind for owner Steve Chamberlain and his wife, Jennifer.
Chamberlain announced earlier this year that he will close the pizza shop, popular among Nikiski residents, and replace it with a greenhouse and nursery which he said Thursday will be called Everett’s Acres.
“I’m very excited about the future,” Chamberlain said.
The Chamberlains still hope to bring Thanksgiving meals to their fellow neighbors, though, and Chamberlain said they will likely continue the tradition on a smaller scale. He said continuing to offer and deliver take-home boxes of Thanksgiving food to area seniors and those who can’t make it out for the holiday is a more feasible possibility. This year, Chamberlain said he and volunteers had dispatched about 50 food boxes by Thursday afternoon.
The in-house meal was also shaping up to be the largest yet, Chamberlain said. He said he was worried not many people would show up, but the parking lot was packed shortly after the doors opened at 3 p.m., and he said about 60 people had been served by 3:30 p.m. Luckily, Chamberlain and his team of family and staff volunteers had prepared for more than 200, just in case.
“Every year we get better at it,” Chamberlain said.
Chamberlain said the green bean casserole and the fruit salad are the crowd favorites.
While the holiday feast sees a lot of repeat customers, Chamberlain said he was glad to see a lot of new faces this year. One of them was Mahlon Troyer, who had previously worked deliveries for Charlie’s Pizza but had never come to the Thanksgiving dinner.
“It definitely brings everyone together because this is a well-known pizza place, everyone knows it and talks about it,” Troyer said. “Just to have Thanksgiving and bring all the families together that don’t have really families to go to for Thanksgiving is awesome, you know? It’s a miracle.”