When he started volunteering with the Salvation Army’s Thanksgiving Dinner in Juneau in 1986, Jerry Harmon helped serve needy people in the basement of the group’s church on Willoughby Avenue.
Thirty-three years later, Harmon, his wife, children and six grandchildren all volunteer at the event which has grown so large it needed to move out of the church basement and into the Hangar on the Wharf.
In his first year at the Thanksgiving Dinner, “we had maybe 10 (volunteers),” Harmon said. “Now there’s 50, 60 easy.”
“In those days turkeys were brought in from different families in town, put it all together for the less fortunate,” Harmon said. “There are a number of people who come and mingle with the less fortunate, just to pump them up and let them know they’re human beings just like the rest of us.”
Harmon, now 79, and a foreman at the Kensington Gold Mine, came to Juneau from Anchorage in 1985 to work at the Alaska Juneau Mine. He and his wife Beverly had four children who all started helping with the dinner as well.
“It was pretty much from day one, every since they were old enough. They were all there yesterday,” Harmon said Friday. His children, Genevieve, Jameson “J.J.”, Ursala and Veronica started by serving pies and refilling water glasses, and now Harmon’s six grandchildren help out as well.
“It’s really amazing. I looked at them yesterday, all six of them sitting at one table folding napkins,” Harmon said. “When I saw my grandkids sitting at one table, putting the red band around the napkins, you feel good forever.”
There were other things families can do together, Harmon said, but this was an event was of special importance.
“Makes you feel really good to see your family working,” Harmon said. “We’ve always believed the grandparents were part of the family, that’s why we live close, it’s just a good feeling.”
Harmon’s grandchildren, Alessandra, Sawyer, Caleb, Vespina, Marzena and Arremina range in ages from 7-17. His two son-in-laws, Ryan Friend and Jeremy Witmore, help out as well.
This year the Salvation Army served 588 meals, according to Gina Halverson, Juneau Salvation Army officer. Halverson said that in addition to the people who show up for the event itself, the local Salvation Army partners with other agencies in town to provide meals for people who can’t leave the home.
Meals are also provided to the Juneau Police Department so officers who have to work on the holiday can have a Thanksgiving meal as well.
“We couldn’t do the event without the volunteers and the people who find the time to take time during the holidays,” Halverson said. “People need community and there’s so many out there that feel really lonely during the holidays, so we try to say ‘hey, we’re here to help.’”
Rob Sanford, owner of Hangar on the Wharf, allows the Salvation Army to use the space and the kitchen. Sanford and some of the staff from the restaurant volunteer as well. Dick and Carol Hand, owners of Alaska Seafood Company, smoke the dozens of turkeys cooked each year for the event.
Harmon said he and his family will also spend a day together, “ringing the bell,” for the Salvation Army’s annual Red Kettle campaign which takes place during the holiday season. Harmon also volunteers for Juneau Gold Rush Days. His wife Beverly, a retired school teacher, owns and operates the AJ Mine Gastineau Mill Tour.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at 523-2228 or email@example.com.