Anthony Whiteman consumed his Thanksgiving dinner through straws after his jaw was broken by three assailants three weeks ago, thanks to a volunteer willing to put each of the traditional dishes in a blender. But despite his pain and hardship of being unemployed after recently moving back to Juneau from Anchorage he said he has plenty to be thankful for.
“This is the first food I’ve had in three weeks,” he said, noting everything else since the assault has been liquid nutrition. Not to mention “I’m living.”
Whiteman, who originally moved to Juneau in 1975 and has worked in construction and other jobs since, was among the hundreds of people at the Salvation Army’s annual local Thanksgiving meal, which again took place in person following an interruption during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Blending his dishes into consumable and appetizing form was Frank Balogh, owner of Alaska Auto Repair and a volunteer at the communal meals for the past 21 years. He said his duties usually involve backroom tasks such as washing dishes and emptying trash cans, but his role as a unique type of server this year meant figuring out things such as the proper ratio of pumpkin pie and whipped cream.
“You’d better pray for me on this one,” he told Whiteman. “This could be messy.”
The midday meal was served for the first time at the Juneau Yacht Club which, while something of a walk for people downtown without a vehicle, offered a setting and scenery that gave the gathering extra meaning for some.
Garrett Derr, sitting at one of the large round tables with a group of old and just-made friends, spent his time before getting a meal from a volunteer server sketching the Douglas Island landscape just outside the window that included the cabin his grandparents lived in long before statehood. In one corner of the paper was a list of names of the people he’d met during the meal after getting a ride there from his room at the Glory Hall.
“I’m thankful for my friends and family and freedom,” he said. Plus, with nice weather early in the day instead of the major storm forecast, after the meal “I’m going to take my skateboard and go downtown.”
Sitting next to Derr was Valerie Parkinson, another Glory Hall patron who has lived in Juneau for 17 years. Like him, she was familiar with the struggles and comforting experiences of others at the table, and instead of dreaded uncles and politics the communal family was able to talk about shared subjects ranging from health to pets such as the communal dog that roamed Mill Campground when they stayed there during the summer.
“I’m thankful to be able to have a nice, warm place to stay,” Parkinson said. “I’m thankful for the Glory Hall.”
More than 40 volunteers assisted with preparing, serving and cleaning up for an estimated 600 meals, about of which were delivered to people unable to be at the communal gatherings, said Maj. Gina Halverson of the Salvation Army.
Among the helpers were nine members of Jerry Harmon’s family, who have been at the meals since he started volunteering about 30 years ago. Harmon, 82, who retired this year after working more than 40 years at the Kensington Mine, said that spirit of helping across three generations as well as being able to retire while still in good health are reasons he’s thankful this year.
“I’m thankful for everything I’ve got and I truly believe somebody’s helping me do it,” he said.
His grandson, Caleb Friend, 16, was carving turkeys for the first time this year, although he said he’s been volunteering for the meals since he started wrapping silverware at the age of 6.
“It took me a little while to learn, but I got the hang of it from him,” he said, indicating his grandfather who was a few feet away performing the same duties.
Friend said he’s thankful for his family, which celebrates its traditional Thanksgiving after the communal meal with a feast of their own featuring foods everyone makes.
Fifty turkeys for the communal meal were smoked by Dick Hand, owner of Alaska Seafood Company, and the ceremonial carving of the first bird was performed by Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss. Folk music during the dinner was performed by the Koski Family Band (comprised of father Travis, son Warren, and daughters Ruby and Tracie).
By the end of the two-hour gathering, when volunteers were able to collect take-home meals for themselves while cleaning up, Balogh was again performing his familiar tasks such as hauling out the trash. But he said one of the reasons he’s thankful this year is “to be breathing” after recovering from a serious illness and able to volunteer again this year.
“I think we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing, serving others,” he said.
• Contact reporter Mark Sabbatini at email@example.com