Lions to host free Thanksgiving dinner today

Annual event a local tradition

Nearly two decades ago, members of the Eagle River Lions noticed how quiet things were around town on Thanksgiving Day.

“Nothing was open for anyone that didn’t have anyone to share with,” recalled Lion Chuck DuCharme.

At that time, no restaurants stayed open on Thanksgiving. Further, there were no community dinners being offered by anyone, either.

Eagle River Lions president Finis Sheldon said he figured that needed to change.

“I said, ‘Gosh, why don’t we offer a dinner up here?’” Sheldon said.

In the 18 years since, the Lions’ annual Thanksgiving Dinner has grown into one of the club’s biggest events of the year.

“Originally it started out with maybe 50 people,” said DuCharme, who estimated 200-250 people will turn out this year.

This year’s free dinner will be held today (Nov. 22) from noon until 2 p.m. at the Eagle River Lions, which is located at the corner of Eagle River Road and Eagle River Loop Road (across from Walmart). The dinner is open to anyone who wants to have a traditional holiday meal consisting of Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes — and lots, lots more.

“All the stuff that goes with a full-blown Thanksgiving dinner,” Sheldon said.

Volunteers from both the Chugiak and Eagle River Lions Clubs help put on the feast, with funding coming from raffles and donations from area businesses.

Over the years, Sheldon said the event has grown into something people look forward to.

“It’s progressed largely as a social thing,” he said.

Being able to share a Thanksgiving meal with the community is the big draw, he said. The event usually attracts a wide range of people, from those who might have trouble putting together their own holiday meal to those who don’t have family in town to folks simply looking for a nice time.

“It really has no bearing on need,” Sheldon said.

DuCharme said event volunteers typically seem to enjoy the meal as much as those they’re feeding.

“Those folks that are participating get a real warm feeling as well,” he said. “It’s just a great event.”