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One man behind 25-year-old feast

Marie Havenga • Nov 20, 2018 at 12:00 PM

SPRING LAKE — Dan Steigenga loves cooking, community and family.

That's why, each year, the Nunica man has brought his loves together for the annual Thanksgiving Community Feast.

“We continue to do the Thanksgiving Feast because it is my passion to cook for large groups of people as well as bring people together to share an enjoyable experience,” he said. 

And that's 25 years running.

This year, Steigenga, members of his family and the volunteer team will cook 35 turkeys, 30 pans of stuffing, 200 pounds of potatoes and more to serve from noon to 3 p.m. at St. Mary's Catholic Church, 406 E. Savidge St., Spring Lake.

Everyone is welcome to attend, no matter your religious affiliation or financial situation. Delivery is available by calling 616-842-1702 before noon Wednesday.

Steigenga said he expects the volunteers to deliver between 300 and 400 meals, and up to 400 community members will dine at the church Thursday.

He and his wife, LaRae, and their children, Katelin and Justin, have been cooking the feast, with the help of volunteers, since its beginnings at the then-Christ Community Church. Steigenga said he never expected the feast to continue for a quarter of a century.

“I never thought it would last this long, but I have fun with it,” he said. “Our mission as a family is to give a gift to the community in an effort to honor those who have supported us and greatly influenced our lives.”

Life wasn't always full of fun, feasts and pumpkin pies for the Steigenga family.

Despite the sweetness and sustenance of some of the menu items, the feast has its roots in despair. Steigenga, who said he has experienced such despair, wants no one else to. He wants everyone to feel welcome at the feast — 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 was a long-time local chef and former owner of Trumpet's Restaurant at the Days Inn in Grand Haven. After he lost the restaurant in 1991, he went through a couple of years of depression, he said.

“Basically, I didn't want to be here anymore,” he said.

Steigenga 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.

He called the Rev. Richard Rhem, then the 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 re-lit my fire.”

After many counseling sessions, Steigenga said he and fellow spiritual friend Peter Theune meshed. Theune suggested that, 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 on Thanksgiving Eve, Steigenga will be prepping a three-dozen-turkey meal.

“It's not so much my story at this point,” he said. “It's become the community's story. People look forward to it. I just can't give it up.”

More than 100 volunteers contribute to the feast.

“I can't do this without the volunteers,” Steingenga said. “It's not about me. It's about the community and volunteers. They show up every year.”

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