This coming Thursday, Thanksgiving will be celebrated across the U.S. Our community goes out of its way to ensure everyone has a place at the table for a hearty and filling Thanksgiving meal. One way this is accomplished is through the local Thanksgiving Blessing, coordinated by the Food Bank of Alaska with the support of the local faith and nonprofit community. Over 8,000 families will be served in this year’s Thanksgiving Blessing in Anchorage, with an additional 2,000 in the Valley.
Thanksgiving meals, including turkey and all the fixings, will be distributed Monday, at six Anchorage locations. From 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. families in need can go to the following locations (based on zip codes; visit foodbankofalaska.org or call 211 for more information):
Crosspoint Church at the Burlington Coat Factory mall on Dimond Boulevard
New Season Christian Center at Spenard Recreation Center, 2020 West 48th Ave.
Central Lutheran Church, Cordova Street and 15th Avenue
St. Patrick’s Church, 2111 Muldoon Road
Joy Lutheran Church, 10111 E. Eagle River Loop Road
From noon to 8 p.m., Mountain View Community Center, 315 N. Price, off of Mountain View Drive
Mike Miller, executive director of Food Bank of Alaska, underscored the broad base of support, saying, “Each one of these partners is partnering with many other community organizations and churches to make this happen with money, commodities and volunteers. The entire Southcentral Alaska area pulls together to make this happen.”
This is in significant contrast to the manufactured buying frenzy that begins that day, and the next, Black Friday, with families plunging further into debt to supply gifts their kids and families do not really need, financed by firms all too ready to help satisfy consumers with credit, layaways and high-priced merchandise.
Local examples of stores bucking the trend to open on Thanksgiving are: Babies R Us, Cabela’s, Costco, Game Stop, H&M, Jo-Ann Fabrics, Nordstrom, Pier 1 Imports, Petco, REI, Sam’s Club, Staples and TrueValue. Additionally, REI has courageously decided employees and family life are more important than opening on Black Friday. According to SHRM.org, a professional human resources organization, “most businesses (76 percent) plan to be closed on the day after Thanksgiving, Friday, Nov. 27.”
Some organizations suggest Black Friday and Cyber Monday lessen charitable giving at this time of year. A national effort, Giving Tuesday (givingtuesday.org), has arisen to counter these big consumer spending days with charitable giving on Dec. 1. It’s been building steam, now claiming a 470 percent increase in online donations since 2012, and counts more than 30,000 partners in 68 countries. Clearly an effort like this cannot hope to cultivate the level of awareness among consumers generated by the advertising efforts of ravenous retailers.
The evening before Thanksgiving, the Interfaith Council of Anchorage will hold its annual Thanksgiving Gathering at First Congregational Church at 7 p.m., featuring music and reflections from Anchorage’s many faith traditions followed by a reception with light snacks.
Muldoon Community Assembly (mcaonline.org) is the only church I located offering family and friends dinner and a wide variety of activities throughout the day on Thanksgiving Day. Activities start with karaoke at 11 a.m., and dinner is served at noon. This reflects the true spirit of early Thanksgivings celebrated by the pilgrims.
When I caught up with senior pastor, the Rev. Kent Redfearn, I discovered it goes deeper than that. He grew up in Barrow, where he learned the importance of feasts, recalling several times a year the whole village stopped and had a feast. Moving to Anchorage for ninth grade, he noted a lack of feasting. Everyone seemed to be isolated in their homes for holidays like Thanksgiving. Redfearn related that the Bible notes seven feasts, and joined this to the Inupiat feast concept. He further noted the New Testament contains accounts of Jesus performing miracles at feasts, where everyone was included.
“The prayer that Jesus taught us to pray starts with ‘our,’ not ‘I,’” Redfearn said. “The Father, Son and Holy Spirit was the first community, and the essence of faith is to live that type of community. The theology of ‘at table’ is powerful. In Psalm 23, it says ‘Thou preparest a table before me.’” Muldoon Community Assembly is to be commended for its inclusiveness and community sharing. Wouldn’t it be great to see a few more churches following its fine example?
According to Lisa Sauder, executive director of Bean’s Cafe, donations have been down substantially, despite an ongoing need for gloves, hats, hand-warmers, and socks due to the cold temperatures. Coffee, tea and toilet paper are especially needed. They’ve started offering hot oatmeal in the mornings when normally a cold breakfast is served. Additionally, an afternoon snack of soup for core intake is being offered. They expect to serve up to 1,200 meals starting at 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day. Over 80 people have been sheltering overnight at Bean’s, where 400 meals are served for breakfast. Bean’s posts critical needs on facebook.com/beanscafe on Thursdays.
“We couldn’t keep our doors open without the support of the community,” says Lisa. “If you’re unable to drop off donated items directly at Bean’s, they can also be dropped off at Tastee Freez (at Jewel Lake and Raspberry roads) or SoYo Yogurt Shoppe on Huffman Road. You can also donate funds online.”
The Downtown Soup Kitchen serves lunches Monday through Friday. “This year DSK is very thankful that we can provide a cold weather shelter for homeless women starting Nov. 30,” Sherrie Laurie, executive director, says “It has been a long process to get the permitting to do this but we are finally ready to open and provide a warm, safe shelter for these women.”
Other religious organizations also provide meals and shelter for those needing assistance: Brother Francis Shelter, Gospel Rescue Mission and the Salvation Army. Your financial help is critical at this time as well.
I’m pleased with the strides the Anchorage faith and nonprofit community has taken to provide assistance to all over the Thanksgiving holiday.
Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, churchvisits.com.
The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, email commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.