Some might say Christmas came early this year for Kenai Peninsula Food Bank Inc. and the Nikiski Senior Citizens Center. They have been fortunate to receive generous donations this season and will use some of the supplies to serve free holiday dinners on Christmas Day.
The event at the food bank will be a first. It resulted from numerous people asking for the dinner over the years.
It was due, in part, to the success of its first Easter dinner held in March. More than 175 people attended the Easter meal.
"We don't know how many to expect, but we think there will be a lot," said Peggy Moore, executive director of the food bank.
"We've had a community outpouring of people wanting to serve," said Moore of the 54 adults and nine children who have volunteered to cook, clean and help out with the event.
The menu for the meal includes both turkey and ham, as well as mashed and sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce and gravy, rolls and a vegetable tray just to name a few items. There also will be pie for dessert.
The event is scheduled from noon to 3 p.m., but Moore serving will continue until the food runs out or people stop coming.
There also will be entertainment. For children 12 and under there will be a pinata that was made and donated by a troop of area Girl Scouts.
Christmas carols will be sung by volunteer Vickie Gardner.
The Boys and Girls Club in conjunction with Carol Boehmler's third-grade class at Kalifornsky Beach Elementary School made polar fleece scarves to give away. There are several bags full and they come in a variety of colors and patterns -- from plaids and stripes to animal patterns.
Children in the After the Bell program at Redoubt Elementary School have decorated a Christmas tree that will be part of the festivities.
The tree was festooned with garland, strands of lights and other decorations.
Soldotna Elementary School students in the After the Bell program also participated by making place mats for the tables and were able to give a contribution of $105 through their "penny wars" fund-raiser.
Other decorations include stockings, wreaths made of wild nuts and berries, candy canes constructed of grapevine, floral centerpieces for the tables and numerous construction paper pictures depicting images of snowmen, angels and hearts.
"To me this is a celebration of joy to have the community come together like this to serve their neighbors," Moore said. "That's what Christmas is about."
It truly is the community that has made the event possible since no government funds are used for the Christmas dinner. It was done solely through food donations and financial contributions from area residents and businesses.
The event at the Nikiski Senior Citizens Center will be the fourth annual communitywide Christmas dinner. In previous years, the dinner was held at Bubba's restaurant in the Nikiski Mall, but this year it is moving to the more spacious senior center to accommodate the growing number of people expected to attend.
"We had about 150 people last year and are expecting (it) to grow more this year," said Jennifer Brossard, director of the Nikiski event. "We're hoping for around 200 or more and have food for up to 300."
Brossard explained how generous all the donations have been, but said volunteers still are needed. It's a tremendous undertaking to prepare food and clean up for that many people. Any help is appreciated, she said.
Like the food bank meal, the Nikiski dinner also will run from noon to 3 p.m. It will have a similar menu and lots of decorations, plus gifts.
The dinner is open to the public.
"We nourish them with kindness and compassion, not just food," said Moore in an effort to point out that the event is as much about fellowship and socialization as it is about the meal.
Brossard also made it clear this isn't just for those financially constrained, but open for anyone to attend. This includes singles or anyone who lives in the area who can't be with their families for one reason or another.
The food bank has enough volunteers for this season's events, and donations have been generous, but the rest of the year can be difficult. Moore said it's important for everyone to remember that "hunger doesn't end with the holidays."
Anyone wishing to make a contribution to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank Inc. can do so by stopping in or sending the donation to 33955 Community College Drive, Soldotna, AK 99699. For more information, call 262-3111.
For more information on the Nikiski dinner, call 252-2841.
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