Rebecca Lunsford serves Thanksgiving dinner to Dennis Rofoli on Thursday during a community meal at The Salvation Army in Kenai.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Julie Jones could have spent her Thanksgiving at home or with friends, but she didn't. Instead, she donned an apron and found herself adding chicken stock to a pan of stuffing at The Salvation Army.
Volunteering her time so others can share a meal with friends comes natural to her, she said, and simply reflected the lessons learned from her mother and grandfather growing up.
"We were never taught that we were poor because we always had something," she said, adding that her grandfather would welcome anyone who happened by. "(He said) I never knew a stranger; anyone who came to the house was a friend."
With 10 turkeys and cases upon cases of stuffing, potatoes, cranberries and yams, it took 20 chefs almost a week to prepare the massive spread The Salvation Army laid out for its community.
Using the funds generated by its Christmas fundraiser, The Salvation Army kicked off the holiday season and carried on a century-old tradition of providing good food and friends to share with anyone, rich or poor.
"There's no monetary status going on here," said Jeannie Fanning, Salvation Army program manager. "People don't have to be in need. They just have to be in need of someone's time."
Jones said a lot of people misjudge The Salvation Army and the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank, thinking you have to be poor to have a place at their tables for Thanksgiving. But to her, participating, giving and sharing can be done by anyone regardless of their monetary value.
"You don't have to be poor and without to come and share gratitude and Thanksgiving," she said, adding she intends to help at Christmas and is interested in cooking for next year's Thanksgiving feast.
"If I'm going to get my hands in the dressing, I'd better get it all in there."
Dennis Rofoli said he would be alone on Thanksgiving if it weren't for The Salvation Army. Rofoli, who moved to Alaska from Hawaii to fish, said he couldn't afford a big dinner on his own and applauds the volunteers for taking the trouble to do it.
"Someone took me by the hand and brought me here. It's nice to be with people to celebrate," he said. "I don't see anything missing. They have candied yams, the stuffing has real onions in it. It's real nice."
Julie Jones checks a pan of dressing. A crew of volunteers worked through the week to make the dinner possible.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
With Julie Trudell's family back in the Midwest, rather than spend a lonely Thanksgiving with her cat, she decided to come to The Salvation Army.
Instead of eating their stuffing at a restaurant, Jackie and Stephen Stringham support The Salvation Army and have done so for almost nine years. Even though the Stringhams receive many invitations from friends, and even accept a few, spending part of their Thanksgiving with the folks at The Salvation Army is just as important as family, Jackie Stringham just wishes more people could come.
"There are a lot of people who need to be here who can't get here," she said, adding she discussed the possibilities of having a van pick up folks who want to attend.
"Transportation is a problem."
Even though this is the only major meal event The Salvation Army does, Fanning said volunteers will be busy putting together Christmas baskets, as well as coordinating the Angel Tree drives and the toy drop for the inmates at Wildwood Correctional Center later in the season.
"Inmates can choose something for their children and a group comes to wrap them," she said. "It keeps a connection between the inmate and the child no matter what (they have) done. (Often) it's the first time they've thought about giving their child something for Christmas."
Craig Fanning, commanding officer at the Kenai Salvation Army, said the army will work on Christmas baskets and toy drives until Dec. 25 with the Thanksgiving meal being the highlight of the season. While attendance can be anywhere between 50 and 200 people, he said so many people want to volunteer that they often have more help than they can use.
"If they showed up wanting to help, we'd let them help," he said.
"It's not only important for people who want to share a meal," Jeannie added. "It's equally important for people who want to serve. It's a good way to reach out."
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