Eagles serve hundreds on Thanksgiving
Post Independent Staff
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – While the rest of town seemed nearly asleep on Thanksgiving morning, the Fraternal Order of Eagles No. 215, on Seventh Street, was abuzz with activity.
Organizer James Kansas ricocheted between the kitchen, an adjacent serving room at the front of the club, and the dining room in back, as an army of volunteers prepared to feed hundreds a Thanksgiving feast of epic proportions.
“It’s a good turnout so far,” Kansas said, pausing in his trajectory to chat with a reporter.
“More will be coming in later,” he predicted as he hurried off to instruct volunteers to start cutting up an apple pie for dessert, while the kitchen disgorged a steady stream of turkey, mashed potatoes, green bean casseroles, cranberry sauce and other fixings that accumulated on dining tables.
Outside, some of the servers and other volunteers caught a quick cigarette or just chatted on the sidewalk as 11 a.m. approached, the time when eager diners would begin arriving for the annual free Thanksgiving dinner.
“I’ve been doing this for the past eight years now,” said Eagles member Rory Martinez of Glenwood Springs, who helps in the kitchen. “It means a lot to me. It’s satisfying to help people out.”
Don Reinhard, also of Glenwood Springs, delivered meals throughout the morning to the Manor I and Manor II senior housing towers, Sunnyside Retirement Center and homes around town.
“We’re going to be delivering right at 100 meals today,” he said proudly, as he waited for another load.
Martinez recalled that more than 400 meals were served in 2010 at the Eagles Club Thanksgiving dinner, and he predicted more would be served this year.
“There’s a lot more homeless, a lot more people who don’t have any money, with the economy the way it is,” he said.
Back inside, 72-year old Danny Gonzales of Glenwood Springs, who began the Eagles Thanksgiving feast 30 years ago, gazed around with a bemused expression on his face.
“About a dozen of us were sitting across the river there with nothing to do,” he recalled. He said he was thinking about how turkeys often are donated for charity events during the holidays.
“We thought, if they’ll give us a turkey, we’ll find a place to cook it up and serve it to the people,” he said.
As a member of the Eagles, he approached the club right off and got permission to use the kitchen and the rest of the club. A tradition was born.
“One turkey started it,” he said with a smile, “and now you can see what it is.”
In earlier years he pitched in on the cooking and serving chores.
“Now all I’ve got to do is watch. I just oversee, mostly the dining room,” Gonzales said.
In the dining room, while the tables slowly filled, musician Jeremy Gardner of Glenwood Springs climbed on the small stage at the south end of the room and started tuning up his guitar. He appeared at the door earlier in the day and volunteered to play and sing for the crowd.
Gardner drives a garbage truck for Waste Management, and maintains his dedication to writing, performing and recording music.
Performing after Gardner, according to Kansas, was an accordion player from Ireland named John. Kansas didn’t know John’s last name.
“I just call him St. John,” Kansas said. “And that’s it. He calls me St. James.”
John Gracey, as he later introduced himself, said he played the gig “just for fun. And I’m giving back to the community.”
He said two years ago he suffered a heart attack, and was treated at Valley View Hospital.
“They did a good job, so I’m giving back, and I do a lot of concerts for fun and free,” Gracey said.
Another local guitarist, Joe Bingham, who also helped cook, was expected to show up and play, as well.
The volunteer servers, cooks and helpers in myriad other ways came from all over.
Lisa Slaback, a Glenwood Springs resident, said she has volunteered for the Eagles’ Christmas event before, but this was her first time at the Thanksgiving feast.
“I just came down to pitch in,” she said. Her motivation was “the feeling of giving, absolutely.”
A vice president of the Eagles Ladies Auxiliary, Laura Kammeier, seemed dressed for hostess duty as she moved from room to room.
“I just try to keep the front of the house in order,” she said. She was checking to ensure that the tableware, silver and other utensils were in order, and beverages were set up and available.
“I’m certainly not the only one” keeping an eye on such matters, she emphasized. “Lots of people pitch in.”
For Peg and Mark Chain of Carbondale, helping with the Eagles event was preferable to “just sitting around at home,” Peg explained.
“We have no family around here, so we decided to do something to help others,” she continued. “This’ll probably be the first time of many. It’s a great thing that they do.”
Also from Carbondale, Courtney Eagleton brought her two young daughters, Maggie and Rachael, and a friend, Kathy Bright, and was expecting other friends from the midvalley to volunteer.
While Maggie could not be enticed to say much about her participation, Rachael thought for a moment about how it felt to help out and declared simply, “Good.”
“We just have a lot to be thankful for,” noted Courtney. “I have a job, my kids are healthy, and we have friends.” Helping at the event seemed a natural thing to do.
“I’m from Denver,” said volunteer server Paula Moore, whose parents have a home in Glenwood Springs that “is like a second home to me” and to her two children, Jackson and Aaron.
“This is our third time we’ve done it,” she said. She was looking for a charitable activity when she learned about the Eagles Thanksgiving feast in 2007. Now it’s a regular happenstance.
Others from out-of-state were first-time volunteers.
“We’re a couple of pilots from New Jersey,” said Felix Gonzalez. He and fellow private-jet pilot Dave Friedman flew a client to Aspen and then came to Glenwood Springs to volunteer.
Although this is the first time for Gonzalez to volunteer for a community holiday meal, Friedman has volunteered for this type of event in Dallas.
“Whenever he’s on a trip for Thanksgiving, he volunteers,” Gonzalez said of Friedman.
So, when Friedman invited Gonzalez to check it out, “I thought it was a great idea,” Gonzalez said.
Friedman, who at 52 is married with kids, said he Googled Thanksgiving, 2011 and Glenwood Springs and came upon a Post Independent story about the local tradition.
He will celebrate Thanksgiving with his family in New Jersey when he returns.
When asked what motivated him to volunteer, Friedman thought for a second and said, “Because you should. If I’m going to be away, I would rather do something helpful.”
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