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Volunteers in abundance at Community Thanksgiving Dinner

A look at volunteers at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner from the past. There are often so many volunteers that by the end of the day there is hardly any work left to do. - Contributed photo
A look at volunteers at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner from the past. There are often so many volunteers that by the end of the day there is hardly any work left to do.
— image credit: Contributed photo

In Minnie Knych’s childhood home at Thanksgiving, at least 12 women gathered in the kitchen for cooking and arguing about recipes and politics, while children played in the living room and the men watched football on TV.

As she and her seven siblings grew up and formed families of their own, their Thanksgiving dinners grew in size.

“It’s a time of the year when more people than ever want to be part of something bigger than themselves,” Knych said.

When Knych moved to the island, she missed those giant holiday feasts and 13 years ago she suggested to the Lions’ Club that they host a dinner for the island. Lion Kerwin Johnson immediately wrote a check for $500, and that was the start of what has become the Community Thanksgiving Dinner at the Grange, to be held this year, Nov. 24, 12 - 4 p.m.

“This is the only gathering where you can join in something in common, with a mixture of generations and viewpoints,” Knych said. “It is the one day a year where we all join in the camaraderie of giving thanks for the blessings we have. Political differences and neighborhood disputes are forgotten.   Everyone and anyone can bask in the feeling of family and community.”

Knych expects 500 people for dinner, and has purchased a few extra turkeys to feed everyone. Last year, they had just enough food — with only a few pieces of turkey left to make two sandwiches.

And there are more volunteers than ever. Knych received phone calls in early October from islanders wanting to reserve their spot on the serving line.

Knych has a list of 60 folks signed up for turkey carving, tending the fire, pie duty, cooking and kitchen work and there is an additional crew of 28 cooking 28 turkeys.

For volunteers like Marlene Crosby, nothing will stop here from helping out, not even last year’s ice storm kept her from peeling potatoes and washing dishes. Crosby has been volunteering at the dinner for about 10 years.

Crosby said after her husband died several years ago, she wondered what she would do on the holidays — the community dinner gave her another “family”  for Thanksgiving.

“I have a friend in Arizona who heard me talk about it so much, she decided to come see it herself,” Crosby said. “She couldn’t believe you could have so much fun cooking.”

That friend, Pam Kitchener, is flying to Friday Harbor again this year to join Crosby for the dinner — and this time Kitchener is bringing her brother, her daughter and grandkids, who live in Seattle.

Robin Delazerda has volunteered eight years in a row — Knych calls her the “unofficial” dining room manager. Most years, Delazerda brings all three of her kids to help out too.

“It’s a sense of community and for the family — a really neat place,” Delazerda said. “It seems like as years go by, more and more people volunteer, there are so many volunteers that we don’t always have enough work to do.”

The dinner is free and all San Juan Service groups, several local businesses and individuals donate funds and help with setup clean up and decorations.

Kings Market has traditionally donated the turkeys.

After the full Thanksgiving feast, Knych urges attendees to stay a while - sit by the fire and watch a bowl game or pick up some dirty dishes and do a turn at the sink — whatever makes people feel part of the family of San Juan Island.

“It’s a great way to meet people, sometimes you’ll see two to three generations at one table,” Knych said, “It’s really a warm and fuzzy feeling.”

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