PUBLISHED: 12:25 PM on Wednesday, November 23, 2005
Dinner is served
Hangar restaurant serves as host to less fortunate for the holiday
One of the best parts of Thanksgiving is getting the opportunity to spend it with loved ones.

But what if a person is alone on the holiday, or down on their luck? For those people who might not have family around or the funds to put together a fine turkey dinner, there is a special celebration taking place at the Hangar on the Wharf this Thursday.

"Our goal is to help those in need this holiday season by providing them with a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with all of the fixings," said Major Joe Huttenlocker, pastor of the Salvation Army in Juneau. "We want to provide those who are elderly or shut-in, or who don't have someone to spend the holiday with, an opportunity not to be by themselves. And our focus is also on helping those individuals or families who are facing tough times."

Now in its eighth year, the Thanksgiving celebration at the Hangar was the brainchild of Murray Damitio, who used to own the restaurant.

Damitio came up with the idea of holding the event as a way to rally support for those who were less fortunate.

"Murray was a board member of the Salvation Army for many years prior to opening the Hangar, and he saw this as a good way to involve everyone in the community in helping out," explained restaurant president Reecia Wilson.

"Even though Murray is now retired, we continue to carry on in his spirit.

"My partners and I are just thankful that we are in a position to continue to provide the nice environment and hot meals to the less fortunate on Thanksgiving Day."

Wilson's partners include Executive Chef Ron Burns and Director of Operations Rob Sanford.

The dinner, which attracts between 200 and 400 people each year, is quite an undertaking. Between 40 and 60 volunteers show up to help cook, serve and clean up after the event.

Roughly 30 turkeys are provided to feed the guests, along with hundreds of pounds of potatoes, vats of stuffing and all kinds of side dishes. Dessert is served as well, and will include approximately 60 pies.

"The Hangar provides the facility as well as most of the starches, vegetables and condiments," said Wilson.

"Our executive chef, Ron Burns, gets up early and starts cooking away. He's the reason everything tastes so good."

The volunteers are organized by Jane MacKinnon, who has helped run the 'front of house' each year that the dinner has been prepared.

"What's really neat is that because this has become an annual event, we get to see the same volunteers year after year," said Wilson.

"It makes the burden of training easier, because people serving coffee already know how to work the coffee machine. And a handful of our staff also show up which makes things easier because they know where everything is."

Much of the food is donated by different organizations and individuals around town, including the turkeys, which are provided by Shorty Tonsgard of Channel Construction.

"We solicited for turkeys for the event, and we've already received 30, so we're all ready to cook those and serve them for dinner," said Huttenlocker. "We've also asked the community to donate pies, though we haven't seen any yet. We're just waiting for those to come in."

Huttenlocker said that there is a special need this year, as many families have had to tighten the purse strings, especially in light of fuel costs.

"We let the individuals and families who come to the Salvation Army for assistance know of the dinner in the hopes that they'll take the opportunity to join us," he said. "We have room for them, and food for them, and lots of loving smiles."

"The people who join us have always been very appreciative," added Wilson.

"It's just a nice place for people to come, have dinner and enjoy the community spirit."

And to fill up on really good food before they return home to relax.

"By 4 p.m., I'm pretty much exhausted by the time we get everything cleaned up and back in order," laughed Wilson. "So no, I don't make another large Thanksgiving dinner at the house."

Thanksgiving dinner at the Hangar will take place from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 24.