Embracing meaning in Thanksgiving
On the morning of Thanksgiving eve, organizer Joanie Kruse — the self-proclaimed sergeant of the operation — jetted through the St. Cyril Catholic Church kitchen in Wilsonville as rapidly as she gave orders, Ray Klupenger sizzled stuffing accoutrements in a pan, Phillip Krumm peeled potatoes and 93-year-old Virginia Thompson sat on a table next to the kitchen slicing dozens of potatoes and placing them in a bucket.
All four parishioners had families and a place to go on the following day, Thanksgiving. But in cooking a feast and serving it at the church on Thanksgiving, they and other volunteers provided a place for those who might not.
In turn, Kruse said they embraced the meaning of Thanksgiving.
"I think it means giving back to the community," she said. "I have a huge family. I have eight brothers and sisters. But this (the church) is my family. If you can help one person on the street isn't it worth it?"
For its fifth annual Thanksgiving community feast, St. Cyril Church provided turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, vegetables and other scrumptious foods to anyone who wanted to come.
In preparation to host approximately 125 people, organizer Eileen Clarkson created recipes and grocery lists and purchased the myriad items at several stores.
"Eileen is the Betty Crocker of the whole group," Kruse said. "I'm more like G.I. Joe."
Stuffing, though, is Kruse's specialty. Her recipe includes sausage, garlic, onions, peppers and no salt.
"We don't stuff the birds. We don't have that kind of time," she said. "It turns out really good. You have to try it."
The kitchen team got up at 6:30 a.m. to prepare the meal Wednesday morning, worked until noon and returned later for a night shift.
Kruse said more people offered to volunteer than needed.
"We have to turn people away who come to help. It's nice that people say 'Yeah I'm going to be busy with family but I'm going to help you for (a few) hours,'" she said.
Kruse said attendees of the meal included people whose significant other recently passed away, whose family lives on the other side of the country or are homeless or financially distressed. Every year, after the meal ends, St. Cyril allows attendees to pack up extras and take them home and also sends out packages to homeless camps.
"They're overwhelmed that we take the time," Kruse said. "We've had some sit here and cry and I cry with them because no one should cry alone."
Klupenger's family of 25 gathered on Thanksgiving and went around the kitchen table telling each other what they are thankful for.
For Klupenger, Thanksgiving is about spending time with family.
"It's not the turkey," he said. "It's more a family get-together. We've always treated it like that."
And Klupenger was happy to help those who might not have as robust of a cohort. So even though he typically leaves the turkey cutting and most of the cooking to his wife, he was there in the kitchen stirring vegetables Wednesday morning.
"You feel grateful that we've got a family and we feel a little bad about those who don't that's why I come here (to help)," he said.
Krumm, for his part, attended the church meal with his children and grandchildren. He thought his family would benefit from volunteering and said they were excited to help.
"They want to do it. It's a great thing for them to do," Krumm said. "They love the idea of being able to give. They're all doing well for themselves and don't need anything but recognize that other people do."
Like Krumm, Kruse spent most of her Thanksgiving at the church.
"I cooked up a turkey last night (at home), put it in the fridge and then when I come home later today I'm going to reheat it slowly and that will be my Thanksgiving so I'll spend all day here serving," she said Wednesday.
Thompson's husband passed away earlier this year and this was her first Thanksgiving without him.
After dicing gallons of potatoes Wednesday, Thompson and her son (who also volunteered) enjoyed the fruits of their labor at the community meal Thursday instead of cooking at home.
"That's (her husband's passing) not the reason we're coming here to eat," she said. "We just thought it would be a nice way to get out and actually socialize so people know we're still kicking."
Though she recently lost a loved one and her family is scattered across the western United States, Thompson is thankful for what she has and thinks you should be too.
"To give thanks for everything you have, for all the blessings we take for granted. It's as simple as that. Be thankful. Be grateful," Thompson said. "Help when you can and if you can't somebody will help you. That's the way the world should work."