In our own Backyard

Story last updated at 5:11 PM on Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Spirit comes Alive in Ninilchik

in our own backyard

By McKibben Jackinsky
Staff writer


Photos by McKibben Jackinsky, Homer News

Four-year-old Audrey, the granddaughter of Charlene Paight of Ninilchik, visits with Santa during a Saturday craft bazaar Paight helped organize to form a community food pantry.

By almost anyone's standards, Ninilchik is small. It's not even a dot on some Kenai Peninsula maps.

Don't confuse its size, however, with the strength of its giving spirit and deep-rooted desire to take care of its own. That was clear Saturday when the community came together for an all-day event to help create a community food pantry.

Founded in the 1800s as a settlement for Russian American Company pensioners, Ninilchik's original families faced strict guidelines. For instance, they could not depend on neighboring communities to sustain them. They were given provisions to last a year, at the end of which they had to be able to provide for themselves.

Residents' desire to look after themselves continues to run deep. The village diet of my childhood consisted mostly of what we hunted, caught or grew. Men hunted and fished together. Women shared bread-baking, jam-making and fish-canning tips. Kids weeded gardens.

Growing out of our clothes meant they would be given to others. When too worn to wear, they were torn into strips for making rugs.

Never have I eaten clams more delicious than those prepared for a community meal each spring by women of the Methodist Church. Methodists, Catholics, Baptists and Russian Orthodox sat elbow to elbow, religious differences forgotten as we ate the sweet, tender meat.

Being together for births and deaths, in celebrations and in squabbles, drew us together.

Now, Charlene Paight and Madeline Thompson are leading an effort to help neighbors in need of a helping hand. Saturday's craft fair, hay rides, meal and Christmas play drew a large crowd to Ninilchik Fairgrounds, with donations of food and financial support piling up to kick start a community food pantry.

Desirae Tangman pointed out where to leave donations and gave away beaded jewelry a friend was teaching her to make. Creative Kids for a Cause — Aliann and Danica Schmidt, 11-year-old twins from Soldotna — sold beaded jewelry they had made, proceeds going to the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.

Felted bags sold by Selma Leman and Mae Demidoff, both of Ninilchik, reminded of the value in worn-out woolen sweaters. Phrases on Vince Egbert's log designs reminded us to "live well, laugh often, love a lot."

The meal, prepared by Ninilchik's Domestic Engineers, was something to see and taste. An abundance of turkey and ham, side dishes from community members and assorted desserts allowed each of us more than one plate full.

Delores Lindeman and her troupe of actors performed "The Fishing Village That Forgot About Christmas." The audience sang Christmas carols fitting the on-stage action.

Rev. Julie Wasser of the Methodist Church brought the evening to a close. "(Christmas) is about love. It's about giving," she said.

On Monday, Paight turned Saturday's donations into 20 baskets of food.

"I feel overwhelmed with the blessing and support of the community. And, of course, God had his hand in all of this, too," she said. "I'm real happy ... I think this will keep going."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at