Volunteer Sandra Stangeland serves mashed potatoes to Faith Hays at The Salvation Army's Community Center Building in Kenai Thursday, while Donald Poimboeuf waits his turn. The Salvation Army sponsored its annual community Thanksgiving dinner.
Photo by John Hult
Wallace Hyde came to Alaska more than 20 years ago from Bozeman, Mont. He played guitar in a few bands and worked the trade that now pays his bills: custom carvings from antlers, horns and fossilized ivory. The artist lived and worked in Anchorage, Wasilla and several other small towns before settling in Kenai in 1998.
“I like the pace,” Hyde said. “It gets faster in the summer, but that’s OK.”
Hyde likes Kenai, but he doesn’t have family in the area to eat with on Thanksgiving or Christmas. When Thanksgiving comes around, he sees friends and meets new ones at The Salvation Army’s community dinner.
“The food’s great; it always is,” he said.
To Hyde, the folks at The Salvation Army’s community Thanksgiving dinner are friends and fellow volunteers. Though he doesn’t perform in bands anymore, Hyde still straps on the guitar and plays with other volunteers for the Community Outreach Program and at the Forget-Me-Not Care Center every once and a while. He has a simple maxim on volunteering and community involvement:
“If you’ve got it, you’ve got to give it away,” he said. “It’s just a thing you’ve got to do.”
According to Salvation Army Lt. Jeannie Fanning, the event’s principal organizer, Hyde is not alone in this sort of thinking.
“We couldn’t do this without everyone who’s helping, and I’m not just saying that because it sounds good,” Fanning said. “Without people donating money and food and time, this would not exist.”
On Thanksgiving, the proof was on the table. The 10 turkeys cooked in the morning were donated by the Kenai Rotary. Three of those turkeys and all the potatoes and veggies were prepared by Gerri Litzenberger and others from the Soldotna Rotary and students from Cook Inlet Academy. Credit Union One in Soldotna donated 30 pies chocolate, apple, pumpkin and rhubarb.
“I’ll pick up the pies next year,” Hyde said when he overheard that figure.
“See, another volunteer,” Fanning said.
Fanning and Hyde were joking around at that moment the dinner included many laughs but as a description of how community projects like this one come together, the exchange was telling.
From The Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program to its volunteer-run stores in Kenai and Soldotna to the Thanksgiving and Christmas community dinners, many connections are made informally.
“People have come in and gotten help and said, ‘Next year, I want to be a helper,’ and they do,” Fanning said of her experience working on the Angel Tree program. “I think it speaks of the community and type of people in the community.”
Fanning also stressed that the dinner had nothing to do with income. The dinner which was free and open to the public is need-based, but the needs are about friendship and holiday fellowship, not income.
“Nobody who walks in here is looking at others wondering what position in life the others are in, they’re just here to have Thanksgiving dinner. It’s very cool in that sense,” she said.
Some are like Hyde, who have met friends and become volunteers themselves through events like these. Some are like Donald Poimboeuf, a former truck driver and two-year Kenai resident who caught a ride to the dinner from his hospice caretakers. Some are like Faith Hays, a former Missouri resident and friend of Fanning’s through a local dog club.
“Everybody gets a good meal out of the deal, but I think it has more to do with people not having to be alone,” Fanning said. “Even some of the volunteers do so they won’t be alone.”
Whatever the reason for being there, the open door dinner brings people together for more than food.
“This just makes for a nice plan on Thanksgiving,” Hays said.
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