Hundreds of senior citizens walked slowly through the glass double-doors at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall Sunday afternoon as retired U.S. Coast Guard Chief Jim Pisa scooped pounds of mashed potatoes into serving trays in the kitchen.
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"I always make extra," said Pisa, who worked his eighth year in a row as the head cook for the Juneau chapter of the Chief Petty Officers Association's annual senior dinner.
Pisa had been in the hall's kitchen since 8 a.m. preparing 250 pounds of turkey and ham, plus all the fixings for 350-400 seniors expected for the 34th annual event.
Meanwhile, Pat Carothers, a retired career Marine and associate member of the CPOA, had been slicing turkey and placing it in serving dishes for the warmers. Sunday marked the 82-year-old's 28th year volunteering for the dinner.
"We see the same people here every year ... There's only three or four times a year that all the old-timers can get together. This is their occasion they get to see each other," he said.
Started in 1974, the dinner was first held for 40 guests at what was then St. Anne's Nursing Home. Carothers worked with the event founder, Senior Chief Petty Officer C.T. Barger, in the Harbor Master Office for a time and remembered why Barger said he started it.
"He wanted it to be known in the community that the Coast Guard supported them," Carothers said. "He also wanted to let the CPOA be seen as the service givers they are."
With all of the seniors seated Sunday, 50 chief petty officers in dress uniforms served dinner by carrying large trays through the dining room. Local Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts helped in serving.
"It's a great experience seeing the faces of all the senior citizens, they really appreciate us doing this for them," said Tamara Williammee, vice president of the Juneau CPOA chapter, who served full trays of food Sunday.
Adm. Gene Brooks attended for a second year, noting that many Coast Guard service members spend the holidays without their families while in Juneau.
"Tonight and through the years, these elders are our families and this is our chance to honor them during the holidays," Brooks said.
Music by the Juneau-Douglas High School jazz band and chamber singers provided a festive atmosphere, while Stroller White Highland and Children of All Nations dancers entertained during the event.
An ongoing sale of raffle tickets partially funds the event, which is largely made possible by food and cash donations from throughout the community, said Command Master Chief Terry Vanderwerf, the event organizer.
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