Steigenga, a local chef and former owner of Trumpet's Restaurant in the Grand Haven Days Inn, is the chief chef of Thursday's annual Community Thanksgiving Feast scheduled for noon to 3 p.m. at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Spring Lake.
He and his family have been cooking up the turkeys, mashed potatoes, carrots, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pies for the past 23 years, beginning at the former Christ Community Church in Spring Lake.
“I just can't give it up,” Steigenga said. “I've just got to keep going. It's a passion.”
Despite the sweetness and sustenance of some of the menu items, the feast has its roots in despair. And Steigenga, who experienced such despair, wants no one else to.
He wants everyone to feel welcome at the annual dinner — those with family and those without. This feast, like the smaller of its menu parts, is a community in the making.
“When I see these people enjoying the dinner, it's very emotional for me,” Steigenga said. “I went through some hard times, and this was born of that.”
Steigenga said after he lost the Trumpet's Restaurant in 1991, he went through a couple of years of depression.
“Basically, I didn't want to be here anymore,” he said.
He recalls a windy, sunny day in October of that year. What he bore became unbearable. He considered suicide. He never attempted, but he contemplated ending it all.
Steigenga called the Rev. Dick Rhem, then pastor at Christ Community Church in Spring Lake.
“We sat and talked for a long while,” Steigenga said. “Basically, the best way to express it is my fire was gone. He kind of relit my fire.”
After many counseling sessions, Steigenga said he and fellow spiritual friend Peter Theune meshed. Theune suggested because of Steigenga's talents, he might be the perfect person to head up a Thanksgiving community feast.
“I was all for it,” Steigenga said.
And that's why, as many people are asleep in the middle of the night, Thanksgiving Eve, Steigenga will be prepping 30 turkeys, 100 pounds of potatoes, 24 large pans of stuffing, 100 pounds of carrots, 60 pounds of cranberry relish and too many other details to mention.
“It's not so much my story at this point — it's become the community's story,” he said. “People look forward to it. I just can't give it up.”
The entire family used to cook for the feast. His kids are now grown and living out of town. His wife still joins the festivities, which will include live music by The Sorensons and a blessing by the Rev. Daniel Anderson.
“Anybody is invited,” Steigenga said. “If they don't have a family, this is where they need to be. There's no charge.”
About 100 volunteers contribute to the Community Feast.
“I can't do this without the volunteers,” Steigenga said. “... They show up every year, verbatim.”