Preparing for the feast

If you're fretting about Thursday's dinner preparations, be thankful you're not in the holiday shoes of some community organizers who are cooking for more than 500 guests.
Marie Havenga
Nov 21, 2012

The prep includes 22 turkeys, 80 pounds of stuffing and 80 pounds of potatoes.

The job is the 20th annual Community Thanksgiving Feast — a cooperative venture for dozens of area churches, organizations and businesses. This year's shindig runs from noon to 3 p.m. Thanksgiving Day at St. Mary's Catholic Church, 406 E. Savidge St. in Spring Lake.

“It's a community-sponsored event and anybody is welcome,” said organizer Cheri Wilson. “It's totally nondemoninational. We're glad to do this for the community — it's a labor of love.”

Last year, after 18 years at C3 Exchange (formerly Christ Community Church), the event moved to St. Mary's because the C3 building in Spring Lake was sold.

Despite the relocation, nearly 100 faithful volunteers remain on board. They'll be carving, serving, delivering meals to tables and to homes, slicing pie, and washing dishes on Thursday.

Chef Dan Steigenga and his family have been in charge of roasting the turkeys for two decades.

Steigenga once ran Trumpet's restaurant in Grand Haven. He said he fell on desperate times after he lost the restaurant in the 1990s.

“I was depressed and I honestly didn't want to be here anymore,” he said.

A member of Christ Community Church at the time, Steigenga sought counseling from church leaders and they devised plans for a community feast.

“They really helped me, and I decided it was time for me to help others and to give back,” he said.

Every year since then, Steigenga; his wife, LaRae; and children, Katelin and Justin, have spent their Thanksgiving cooking for the masses.

“It is such a unique experience,” Steigenga said. “All I really need to make it worthwhile is to hear one story that we helped somebody, and I've always gotten that. There are so many stories. This is a great place for people to gather and spend the day.”

Wilson said business and private donations pay for the $2,300 feast.

“You just sort of keep growing this thing by generations,” said Wilson, who has organized the event for 19 years. “We have a lot of volunteers come back year after year, and we don't have any trouble getting food or monetary donations. It's a finely tuned machine at this point.”

Call 842-1702 or 443-6192 for delivery.

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