Giving thanks

Posted: Friday, November 28, 2008

The sound of jingling Salvation Army bells at storefronts are one of the many signs that ring in the holiday season.

Photo By Dante Petri
Photo By Dante Petri
Jeanie Fanning, envoy at the Salvation Army Kenai, plans out the preparation of Thursday's meal Wednesday.

They're not just synonymous with Christmas, however. Those same bells calling for spare change also help to raise money for events like Thursday's community Thanksgiving dinner at the Salvation Army.

Jeanie Fanning, envoy at the Salvation Army in Kenai, will be the first to tell you that it takes more than bells and some change to put together an event that feeds anywhere from 30 to 130 hungry souls each Thanksgiving.

"The truth is, I couldn't do it without the volunteers," she said. "I'm not trying to stroke people, if you don't have them, it's just not possible, there's no way. I love my volunteers."

Thursday afternoon, the toils of numerous volunteers left a delicious scent wafting outside the Salvation Army building at 201 North Forest Drive in Kenai. An easy 30 volunteers had showed up to prepare the meal in the building's small kitchen Thursday morning. More had worked in the days prior to the event, and still more were helping serve and clean up.

This year Fanning was up at 3 a.m. to start cooking the nine birds served at the dinner.

"I kind of guessed on nine because of the economy. People have been struggling with heating and gas prices, we're thinking we'll get a few more people than usual," she said.

Fortunately, as in years past, Fanning said a few volunteers brought birds home to cook in their ovens, taking some pressure off those at the Salvation Army.

Also helpful was the fact that the organization doesn't have to purchase all the food on its own. The Rotary Club buys the turkeys for the meal and Credit Union 1 in Soldotna contributes pies for dessert.

Fanning estimated the entire meal ends up costing anywhere from $2,000 to $2,500.

By noon on Thursday, Fanning said 40 people had already been served, likely twice as many as one might expect to find at even a large holiday get-together. She estimated that in the proceeding two hours that number would triple.

To orchestrate the preparation for such a feast could only take the work of a ringmaster.

That's exactly how Fanning described Dr. David Wartinbee, a biology professor at Kenai Peninsula College.

Wartinbee has been working in the Salvation Army kitchen on Thanksgiving morning for the past six years.

"It's not a religious thing," he said, describing the group that shows up every year to cook and prepare the meal. "It's just who we are. If we can help people we will."

Wartinbee agreed with Fanning's description of his position. He spends much of the morning finding work for the volunteers that show up to help.

At times, he said, he's challenged. This year for example, he had many youth helping out. He had to be careful to make sure they had safe jobs that didn't require the use of sharp objects.

Her also had some help from Carrie Nelson's Cook Inlet Academy third-grade class peeling potatoes on Wednesday. Additionally, Margaret Gilman's Kenai Middle School eighth-graders helped make the artistic place mats decorating the tables.

Wartinbee appreciated all the extra help.

"Many hands makes for light work," he said.

Dante Petri can be reached at

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