Former Juneau Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jim Carroll (left), and Juneau Mayor and Alaska Attorney General Bruce Botelho serve traditional Thanksgiving dinner dishes to Marzena Whitmore, a volunteer who serves the filled plates to diners during the communal meal hosted by The Salvation Army Juneau Corps at the Juneau Yacht Club on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Former Juneau Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jim Carroll (left), and Juneau Mayor and Alaska Attorney General Bruce Botelho serve traditional Thanksgiving dinner dishes to Marzena Whitmore, a volunteer who serves the filled plates to diners during the communal meal hosted by The Salvation Army Juneau Corps at the Juneau Yacht Club on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Thankful for a spontaneous holiday feast

Hundreds share Salvation Army’s annual Thanksgiving, including some with sudden holiday plan changes.

Ida Sheakley says she’s been living in a van downtown with her partner, Christopher Whitehead, but they were set to celebrate a traditional Thanksgiving Day with family when her mother sent her ferry tickets to Hoonah. Unfortunately their ride to the Auke Bay Ferry Terminal for the 7 a.m. sailing didn’t show up.

So instead, still holding onto their bowls of oatmeal and a jar of peanut butter from their breakfast at the Glory Hall, they caught a shuttle to the annual traditional meal hosted by The Salvation Army Juneau Corps, which took place at the Juneau Yacht Club for the second straight year. Organizers said about 410 meals were served between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., and dozens more delivered to the Glory Hall afterward.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Christopher Whitehead and Ida Sheakley, at table, are visited by friend Shelly Stevens during a communal Thanksgiving meal at the Juneau Yacht Club hosted by The Salvation Army Juneau Corps on Thursday.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire Christopher Whitehead and Ida Sheakley, at table, are visited by friend Shelly Stevens during a communal Thanksgiving meal at the Juneau Yacht Club hosted by The Salvation Army Juneau Corps on Thursday.

Sheakley said that despite going through struggles that have now lasted years, there are things she’s thankful for this year.

“My family cares enough to try to get me home,” she said. “I still have a home to go home to.”

Sheakley and Whitehead, both of whom are on Social Security disability, also said they’re thankful for each other after meeting via Facebook a couple of years ago.

Had they made it to Hoonah, Sheakley said she’d be making much of the family’s traditional dinner.

“I was just talking to my stepdad about that earlier,” she said. “Traditionally we have roast deer, prime rib, turkey and ham.”

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire
Joshua Smith, 22-month-old Aira Smith and Karli Phillips share a table at the communal Thanksgiving dinner hosted by The Salvation Army Juneau Corps at the Juneau Yacht Club on Thursday.

Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire Joshua Smith, 22-month-old Aira Smith and Karli Phillips share a table at the communal Thanksgiving dinner hosted by The Salvation Army Juneau Corps at the Juneau Yacht Club on Thursday.

Also making a spontaneous appearance at the communal meal were Joshua Smith, Karli Phillips and their 22-month-old daughter Aira Smith. The parents were festively dressed — he in a full-body polar bear fleece, she in a Santa bear jersey — motivated in part to cheer up their daughter after she got hurt during a fall earlier that morning.

Phillips said she’s been to the communal meal one time previously when it was at the Hanger On The Wharf several years ago, but this year’s decision to come was as spontaneous as their attire

“I forgot it was Thanksgiving until, like, late,” she said. “She’s so young that holidays haven’t been a big deal. We’re just starting this year — she did Halloween, which was kind of fun. So I have nothing prepared at home. I thought ‘this will be a cool event, get her out to see more people,’ because we haven’t been able to find her daycare yet. So she’s kind of a homebody like me.”

Keeley Riley, a volunteer at the communal Thanksgiving dinner hosted by The Salvation Army Juneau Corps, offers takeout containers to a family of diners at the Juneau Yacht Club on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Keeley Riley, a volunteer at the communal Thanksgiving dinner hosted by The Salvation Army Juneau Corps, offers takeout containers to a family of diners at the Juneau Yacht Club on Thursday. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Besides family and a roof over their heads, which is “a huge struggle for so many people we know,” Phillips said she has an extra reason to be thankful this year.

“I have a job interview for a full-time job on Sunday,” she said, adding it’s for a cashier job that will still mean “I can use most of my energy on taking care of her,” referring to her daughter.

Joshua Smith, who works for a construction remodeling company, said he’s thankful “for all of the families that hire my boss to do these projects.”

“In my line of work this is a real slim time of year to try to find employment,” he said. “And I was really stressed with the holidays coming up and not having any money for presents or anything. I’m super grateful to have employment and be able to go buy gifts.”

Catherine Johnson carves one of 60 turkeys smoked for The Salvation Army Juneau Corps’ annual communal Thanksgiving meal on Thursday at the Juneau Yacht Club. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Catherine Johnson carves one of 60 turkeys smoked for The Salvation Army Juneau Corps’ annual communal Thanksgiving meal on Thursday at the Juneau Yacht Club. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

A total of 60 turkeys were smoked for the meal by the Alaska Seafood Company, with the traditional side dishes and desserts provided by various other organizations and local restaurants. Catherine Johnson, a volunteer for the past 12 years, was among those in the kitchen by 9 a.m. Thursday to help carve the turkeys so the crowd could be quickly served.

Johnson said one reason she volunteers is her husband often takes trips this time of year to visit family members participating in a hunting trip.

“Somebody’s got to stay and shovel the snow,” she quipped.

But despite the also vigorous physical effort involved in separating various turkey parts for a few hours, Johnson said she’d be up for yet more activity after the communal meal to celebrate the holiday — if not for the rather wet and chilly late-November conditions outside.

“If it were nicer weather out I’d go for a hike,” she said.

Jerry Harmon performs the ceremonial first carving of a turkey at The Salvation Army Juneau Corps’ annual communal Thanksgiving meal on Thursday at the Juneau Yacht Club. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Jerry Harmon performs the ceremonial first carving of a turkey at The Salvation Army Juneau Corps’ annual communal Thanksgiving meal on Thursday at the Juneau Yacht Club. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Performing the ceremonial “first carving” of a turkey just before the serving of meals was Jerry Harmon, who started volunteering at the meals about 30 years ago and whose family now represents a sizeable percentage of total volunteers at the meal each year — along with friends he’s recruited, including Johnson.

“I’m probably the only one doing (carving) who’s not part of his family,” she said amidst a kitchen filled with at least a half dozen people wielding knives.

The ceremonial carving was originally scheduled to be done by Alaska Seafood Company owner Dick Hand as a tribute for the smoked turkeys he had provided over many years, but he was unable to attend for health reasons.

Many of the organizers and volunteers said they had subsequent traditional Thanksgiving plans with family and friends, as did some of the attendees — including Sheakley, even if it means celebrating the holiday with her family a day or two later than planned.

“I plan on going home and cooking my son a Thanksgiving dinner,” she said.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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