Every year Minnie Knych and her husband Jim inspire over 100 islanders to bake pies, carve turkeys and wash dishes.
Nineteen years ago, the Knyches started this event because they missed their large holiday gatherings on the East Coast.
“What keeps us coming back year after year is the overwhelming support of the community – not just the donations that make the Community Thanksgiving Dinner possible, but the number of volunteers who enthusiastically do whatever it takes to make it a special day for their friends and neighbors,” said Knych. “We’ve witnessed the growth of this dinner that started as a little Lions Club project grow and focus on that sense of community that makes San Juan special.”
The annual Thanksgiving Dinner will be Nov. 23, 12 – 5 p.m. at the Mullis Center. Everyone is welcome. The dinner is not only a place to fill your belly but can be a bright light for those who are alone during the holidays.
Knych recalled an elderly woman who came early to one of the first dinners. Volunteers helped her pick a seat and served her coffee as she patiently waited for the festivities to begin.
“She said, “I’m in no hurry to eat. I just wanted to be where people are,’” Knych said.
The Community Thanksgiving dinners are also a place for islanders to make peace with one another.
“I have seen people who are bitter political enemies that have said harsh things to each other in public and in letters to the editor; yet they smile at each other across the serving line,” said Knych. “I have seen families with small children sit down next to elderly widows who thrill at having a toddler to sit on their knee.”
Knych urges volunteers to sign up ahead of time, to help the dinner committee prepare. She has already had “helpers” call in September to get their name on their time slot of choice.
You can sign up at communitythanksgivingdinner.weebly.com or call Jim and Minnie Knych at 360-378-7040. She has a list of odd jobs for those who decide to attend last-minute and want to take part.
Last year, 75 volunteers made this island family dinner happen. According to Knych, sometimes there are a dozen people in the kitchen mashing potatoes, chopping salad or washing pots and pans. “Just like a big family dinner there’s always another chore to be done and everyone that wants to can pitch in,” she wrote in a press release about the event.
Islanders can also participate by baking a pie for the dessert table, roasting one of the 32 turkeys in your home oven, or by picking up a spoon and helping to serve the gravy.
The Lions, Kiwanis, Soroptimists, and the Rotary all contribute financially and with volunteers. Local businesses are also involved, according to Knych. Kings Market donates 32 turkeys, and Printonyx, M&W Auto, Islanders Insurance, American Legion, Legion Auxiliary, Sons of American Legion, CenturyLink, Community Treasures and both granges pitch in as well.
Attendees can also look forward to spiced peaches replacing last year’s Waldorf salad. The rest of the menu is roast turkey, dressing, smashed red potatoes, maple pecan sweet potatoes, green beans almandine, fresh rolls, cranberry sauce and gallons of Jim and Roxanne Dunn’s gravy.
“There are stories of people drinking cupfuls of the Dunn’s gravy,” said Knych. “It is that good.”
On the day after Thanksgiving, Knych and volunteers typically look at each other and wonder if they will get all the pots and pans sorted and put away for next year.
“We used to make a turkey dinner for ourselves on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but as the crowds got larger and we got older, we started having our Thanksgiving on Saturday,” said Knych. “The last few years, we rested enough to have our own little turkey dinner on Sunday now.”