KENAI — One way to quantify the hoards of dipnetters working the beach is the number of hotdogs given out by a group of volunteers working the local salmon mission.
“We’re way over this year,” said Brenda Crim, creator and organizer of Salmon Frenzy, a dipnet beach mission run through Alaska Missions and Retreats.
Crim, of Anchorage, said her group was on track to hand out 22,000 hotdogs by the close of last week when the last group of mission volunteers cycles through and the numbers of returning reds dwindle.
Last year, volunteers handed out 17,000 hotdogs during the three-week mission.
With five pallets of bottled water and hundreds of gallons of lemonade already dispersed to the masses, along with nearly a ton of hotdogs, Crim said she and her volunteers are simply providing comforts to people in an environment that can get pretty chaotic as the thousands of people focus getting their share of passing fish.
Most of the mission’s energy is given over to care for others through authentic faith, Christian hospitality and brotherly love, according to Crim, who said there is little focus on overt evangelizing in favor of “inadvertent evangelizing.” It happens when fisherman take a break for the hotdog and a drink and just get to talking about the dealings of life, she said.
“People give the opportunity to discuss the Lord,” Crim said. “We want to help the people on the beach.”
This year’s the mission may have a bigger task than previously, in terms of numbers of folks gathered on the beach, but the goal for the scores that come in service is simple; try to change the hectic climate into one that is as family friendly as possible during the peak of the Kenai River sockeye fishery.
To do that Crim and her crew have developed children’s activities, such as face painting, balloon animals, bounce houses. They also help with first aid, traffic control and trash pick-up. During cold years, there is even a warming tent operation the mission can put into operation.
“Thousands of Alaskans are dip-netting sockeye salmon as an annual family event,” Crim said. “Our ministry approach is servanthood and need-meeting.”
Throughout they also share “Christ in personal, relational ways.”
To staff the service of those needs, she’s built a sable of 450 volunteers, which are positioned at beach locations on both banks of the river mouth during the peak of the run.
“It’s a big block party,” Crim said. “I’ve bouncy houses going at three locations.”
Crim said it’s the children that initially drew her into creating the Salmon Frenzy mission. During a dipnetting trip of her own eight years ago, Crim said she noticed a need for safe child friendly care.
Mostly, Crim said, the goal is to provide a safe place for kids, something all Alaskans want. So, along with food comforts, the group is also caring for the children of dipnetters. In one example, Crim said a 9-year-old made a wrong turn on the south beach one evening and was nearly a mile down the wrong way when volunteers rallied for a search. Finding lost children happens every year the chaos that ensues during the run, she said.
“We dropped everything to find that little boy,” Crim said.