homepage logo

Giving thanks island style at Community House

By Staff | Nov 19, 2009

Though a golden turkey with stuffing, mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce swimming around it tends to be the main attraction on Thanksgiving Day, many islanders also look forward to something a bit more spiritual.

This is the time when any residents head to the Community House for a decades long tradition of saying thanks for living on the island.

The Annual Sanibel Community Thanksgiving Celebration is held at The Community House. The nearly 20-year-old event which gives residents a chance to gather and share in the joy of Thanksgiving will be held at 7 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 22 at the Community House.

The President’s Proclamation is read, a poem is recited and food and donations are gathered for the FISH agency.

Marge Nordstrom who has been coordinating the service event for the past three years is eager to get the island together again.

“Isn’t it great I am on Sanibel?” she said of what the event itself represents.

The celebration started out religious with the local churches and clergy taking turns running the event on the eve of Thanksgiving. But the event fell too close to turkey time for many people and became too taxing to attend.

“It faded for awhile,” Nordstrom said.

But now that the Thanksgiving event is held before that actual holiday attendance has been rising over the past few years.

A few years ago, Jean Wood, a resident, headed a movement to make the Thanksgiving Day celebration accessible to everyone regardless of religious affiliation, Nordstrom said.

Now the annual event is a place for religious and non-religious alike to gather listen to an inspiring service and the BIG ARTS Community chorus sing songs including “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Count Your Blessings”. Guests will also get a chance to hear Sanibel Community Church Summit Preschoolers sing as well as hear Rabbi Murray Saltzman recite his original Thanksgiving poem. Guest speakers include The Rev. Dr. Ellen Sloan, Pastor Daryl Donovan, Kevin Ruane, Judy Zimomra, Bill Fellows and Brad Murray. Rev. Denise Terry will lead the “Community Gathering Together” just before everyone gets to sing “God Bless America.”

Volunteers including Jody Brown, Hal Theiss, Jana Stone and Ray Gallagan will be on hand dressed as pilgrims. The modern day pilgrims will be greeting guests, accepting offerings of food donations and money for FISH, a non-profit agency dedicated to serving needy residents and serving apple cider and cookies provided by Jerry’s.

Residents of the islands past have worked to make events such as Thanksgiving a close-knit celebration. The Community House on Sanibel became operational in 1927 because of one resident’s desire to bring everyone together.

Curtis Perry, a Captiva resident, is said to have walked from his home on Captiva to Sanibel in the 1920s to promote a community center for residents to get together, said Gloria Baker, general manager of the Community House.

“We’re still carrying on that tradition,” she said. “I think he would be very proud.”

Rabbi Saltzman who will be reading his specially written poem “2009 Thanksgiving Prayer” said the Sanibel event transcends ethnicity and religion so that everyone can come together as islanders and Americans.

“It’s a nice way to remember Thanksgiving as a community – kind of like the pilgrims did,” Baker said.