Giving thanks over a big dinner surrounded by family and friends is, perhaps, the most traditional aspect of Thanksgiving. But for one Kenai Peninsula family, giving back is at the heart of giving thanks.
For the fifth year in a row, Gerri Litzenberger and her family will be spearheading the Salvation Army's annual Thanksgiving Day dinner. The former owner and head chef of Through the Seasons restaurant in Soldotna has made the annual event a centerpiece of her family's own Thanksgiving celebration.
"We're very fortunate to have an extended family here in Alaska," she said. "For us to go to the Salvation Army and create a family atmosphere, it's like we leave a part of ourselves there. It's a nice feeling and a great way to start the holiday."
The dinner, which is free and open to anyone, will be served at the Salvation Army on Forest Drive in Kenai from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday. It will feature a traditional Thanksgiving menu and take close to 100 volunteers to make it a reality, said Shirley Stanford, Salvation Army social service worker.
The community dinner has grown since its inception, and Stanford said she expects this year's to be the biggest yet. She added that transportation will be provided to anyone who'd like to eat but has no way to get to dinner, and delivery service to shut-ins is available as well.
"This year is going to be a lot bigger," Stanford said. "We're not sure exactly what's going to happen, but we'll be ready for them."
Thanks, in large part, to a growing corps of people from the community who help.
"This couldn't be done without volunteers," Stanford said. "They just keep coming and coming."
But for volunteers like the Litzenbergers, the Thanksgiving Day service is a labor of love -- and a true family affair.
Litzenberger will be assisted this year by her husband and son, as well as her two sisters and their children. Also, for the third year, her parents from Pennsylvania will be a part of the group. In total, she said, she expects up to 15 members of her extended family to assist at this year's Salvation Army dinner.
"My rule is, if you can carve a turkey, peel a potato or open a can, you're old enough to help," Litzenberger said. "It's really awesome. We have so much fun. We really look forward to it."
The family begins its day around 8 a.m. at the Salvation Army building. Before guests begin arriving around 11 a.m., there is plenty of food to prepare. Around 1 p.m., Litzenberger and her crew will finish up and head for their Soldotna home, where they whip up another Thanksgiving feast -- this time for themselves.
"It's a long day, but it's really wonderful," she said. "We just need to give back to our community any way we can."
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