The holiday season descends on the Kenai Peninsula as inexorably as the snow and for some, the reasons to give thanks are not as numerous as they can be for others.
This year, as they have for many others, families, businesses and organizations have opened their homes, kitchens and hearts to celebrate Thanksgiving.
For Tom and Adele Bearup, strangers are always welcome at their table for a Thanksgiving meal but a recent tragedy makes this Thursday’s holiday different from previous years.
“The objective was for the single veterans that had nobody,” Tom Bearup said. “But we’ll be open to anybody that needs a meal.”
This year they want to help those who need someone and maybe, give what they can no longer give to their youngest son.
Former U.S. Army Sgt. James Bearup killed himself last spring.
James was a youth pastor in Arizona and recent Alaskan with a wife and two children who “just had everything to live for,” Tom Bearup said.
But, the combat veteran who did two tours in Afghanistan came back a changed man and ultimately couldn’t cope with his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
It’s an issue the elder Bearup said he was hoping to help other people avoid.
“There are probably veterans out there that don’t have family and we have a huge family. (James) was the youngest of nine. We have 33 grand-kids. A number of them live here in the Soldotna - Kenai area,” Tom Bearup said. “I would like to be able to steer them in the right direction if they have these problems.”
So, for the ones who make it out to the Bearup’s place in Soldotna near milepost 91 of the Sterling Highway, Adele Bearup — and anyone who wants to help — will cook a traditional thanksgiving meal.
“She’s a caterer, so there’s no telling,” Tom Bearup said. “She might have something special, but I think it’s a traditional thanksgiving dinner. If somebody wants to help that’s fine, but my wife and I will take care of it any other way.”
They are looking for volunteers to help deliver meals to Soldotna-area veterans who may be home bound and unable to attend the gathering.
Tom Bearup — a former mayor of Soldotna — said the dinner will be from 2 p.n. to 5 p.m. and will be a “family-type affair.”
“We’re going to sit around and laugh and joke,” he said. “I want them to come and fill our home. I want them to enjoy their time.”
Interested people can reach them at 907-953-9233 to reserve a spot.
On the other side of the Central Peninsula, Steve and Jennifer Chamberlain are gearing up for a similar affair, although their meal will be held at Charlie’s Pizza, 51400 Kenai Spur Highway heading toward Nikiski.
The two have been giving out food on Thanksgiving for three years and are looking to expand their fourth year.
“We’re looking to feed anybody who is in need of food or in need of company,” Jennifer Chamberlain said.
As they have in years past, the Chamberlains have gathered about 15 volunteers who will deliver between 60 and 80 meals to home-bound seniors in the area.
The dining room of the restaurant will be open from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday with a buffet-style Thanksgiving dinner.
“Steve is going to prepare for 250,” Jennifer Chamberlain said. “This is turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, pumpkin pie, all the Thanksgiving food. No pizza.”
When asked about their motivations for feeding the Nikiski-area, Jennifer Chamberlain paused before she said, “I guess because there is a need. We have the means to do it and it’s fun. It’s fun to see the people come in to volunteer, it’s fun to spend time with people in the community.”
Last year, they served about 150 people in the restaurant, she said.
“There’s a lot of people out there — oil field workers — that have come to the community that don’t have anywhere to go. They just came up for work, I’ve heard from other people that there are a number of them,” Jennifer Chamberlain said.
So, the two will prepare for a crowd.
“Anything we don’t give away we’ll probably just donate to the food bank here in Nikiski,” she said.
The Kenai Senior Center will host a Thanksgiving Dinner that is open to seniors from all over the Kenai Peninsula.
Hilcorp Energy Services donated $3,400 to buy food and supplies for the event continuing on a decades-long tradition started by Chevron.
For those in the giving mood, the LeeShore Center is not hosting a meal, but could use a few donations for the holiday.
Sharon Mosbrucker said the emergency shelter residents would gather for a Thanksgiving meal and don’t need volunteers but could use some food.
“We could definitely use a lot of fruit, bananas, apples, oranges, fresh vegetables,” Mosbrucker said. “I can’t tell you how fast those things go.”
Anyone looking to donate can call the business line at 907-283-9479 or the crisis line after 5 p.m. or on the weekends —just for the holiday season — at 907-283-7257.
“We only have one turkey right now, that should be enough,” she said. “Hopefully we will have a ham coming our way, or we’ll purchase one Monday.”
The community has been very generous so far, she said.
The generosity continues at the Salvation Army, 201 N. Forrest Drive, in Kenai where an annual Thanksgiving meal has drawn so many volunteers, envoy Craig Fanning is quick to point out that there is not room for any others — though everyone is welcome for the gathering.
“We really have all the volunteers we need,” he said. “People start asking in October.”
The Kenai Rotary Club is paying for the meal, while the Soldotna Rotary Club is volunteering to prepare for about 200 people.
Each year, the celebration sees between 50-200 people, Fanning said.
“It’s not targeted to homeless. We have a lot of older couples that come; they don’t want to cook a meal just for themselves,” Fanning said. “We see a lot of the same people every year.”
Due to community generosity, the Salvation Army does not have to pay much for the meal, he said.
Students from Cook Inlet Academy will set up for the meal on Wednesday and on Thanksgiving the dining room will be open from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Like others who come to the Thanksgiving celebration every year, Fanning and his wife are empty-nesters.
“It’s a meal that’s meant to be eaten together,” he said. “We don’t want people to be alone. Nobody should be alone on Thanksgiving.”
Reach Rashah McChesney at firstname.lastname@example.org