Pocketstone Cafe welcomes all kinds for free Thanksgiving dinner

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  • Volunteer Vilma Chemers of Ferndale smiles at patrons at the Pocketstone Cafe Community Thanksgiving.

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    File photoS | Daily Inter Lake Pocketstone Cafe owner Dave Vale and volunteer Ken Ripple take a turkey from the oven at the Pocketstone Cafe Community Thanksgiving in 2012.

  • Volunteer Vilma Chemers of Ferndale smiles at patrons at the Pocketstone Cafe Community Thanksgiving.

  • 1

    File photoS | Daily Inter Lake Pocketstone Cafe owner Dave Vale and volunteer Ken Ripple take a turkey from the oven at the Pocketstone Cafe Community Thanksgiving in 2012.

On Thanksgiving Day at the Pocketstone Cafe, the kitchen is a flurry of activity as a crew of 30 volunteers chop, prep and plate hearty turkey dinners for nearly 200 guests.

Rather than shutter their doors on this family-centric fall holiday, the Bigfork institution throws them wide open, welcoming families, individuals and couples from all walks of life.

Since the cafe’s inception in 2010, the Pocketstone has put on a free Thanksgiving dinner for the community every year but one, when a possible change of ownership was in the works.

“We wanted a community event where everybody could get together and feel like the old time atmosphere that we were trying to establish at the Pocketstone,” said owner Dave Vale.

It’s not so much charity, as it is a way for the community to come together. The cafe does set out a donation jar for the Bigfork Food Bank for those who feel so inclined, but there is no obligation to contribute. Although the funds are “peripheral,” Vale said, they manage to raise around $3,000 each year.

“Some of them contribute generously because they can, and some of them can’t and don’t and that’s just fine. We don’t keep track of who does,” Vale said. “It’s a really cross-section of the community and I would say the people that eat Thanksgiving dinner here look pretty much like the people who eat at the Pocketstone everyday. It truly is community.”

It takes a team of 30 volunteers to prepare the meal, which is served to 185 guests over three separate seatings. Initially, Vale recruited volunteers for each shift, thinking they’d want to go home to their own families once their seating was over. But much to his surprise, they preferred to stick around and participate in the affair once all the guests had been served.

“It’s not so much giving up that experience with their own families — [the volunteers] bring the whole family,” he said. “We’ve got couples and we’ve got one group of six that’s coming this year.”

At the inaugural dinner, Vale also learned that his crew needed aprons, so every year since then, he has provided a pinafore of a different color affixed with a special Pocketstone Thanksgiving logo to commemorate the occasion.

Longtime volunteer Vilma Chemers, of Ferndale, has seven aprons to her name and has been volunteering for so long, she can’t recall what she did for Thanksgiving before the Pocketstone came along.

“It’s just a wonderful thing — and the food is good!” Chemers said. “I don’t have any family here. I don’t know what I did before I started doing this, but now that I do this, I don’t have to worry about being alone on Thanksgiving.”

In addition to serving on Thanksgiving Day, Chemers is part of the prep crew that gathers the day before to chop vegetables. All in all, the whole operation takes more than 200 pounds of turkey, 30 pies and more than two dozen volunteers.

The meal kicks off with a soup course — this year’s special will be a butternut bacon soup with a roll — followed by the traditional turkey day fixings and the guest’s choice of cherry or pumpkin pie. The meal is usually punctuated briefly with a little entertainment — previous Thanksgivings have included a violin performance or a short speech from Vale.

The Pocketstone is already at capacity for this year’s event, but will place additional reservations on an alternates list. “The alternates usually get in,” Vale said. To sign up, interested parties are asked to call the cafe at (406) 837-7223. »

Editor Mackenzie Reiss can be reached at (406) 758-4433 or editor@bigforkeagle.com.

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