SRPMIC Thanksgiving Dinner Goes Virtual

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In a typical year, the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community celebrates with a large number of fun and active events that bring everyone together to enjoy the holidays. The O’odham and Piipaash are known to be very social people, and our annual holidays are a time to be in each other’s presence, catch up, enjoy the company and have fun.

The first Community Thanksgiving dinner took place at the Salt River Ballfield. It relocated to the Salt River Community Building, and most recently it has been held at the Two Waters Round House Café. Community member Vikki Andrew, who hosted the event during her time at the Recreation Department before the event moved to the Community Relations Office, recalls being at the Community Thanksgiving dinner at Salt River Ballfield.

“It was years ago; I remember they used to have it at the ballfield,” Andrews said. “There was a teacher there at the day school. She is the one who was in control of it. I remember they used to serve over at the ballfield. … I was just a kid then, but I remember it.”

Andrews reminisced about how the seniors were their biggest volunteers for the dinner when she started working for the Recreation Department.

“They just loved it,” Andrews said. “They loved coming to help because they always got to take home extra stuff. It was something they looked forward to every year. They would come in and [carve] the hams. We always catered towards the hams and the turkey. But the hams would come whole, so the ladies would slice the hams up. Then we would throw the ham bones into the big pots of beans we were cooking. So we always prepared beans, dressing, mashed potatoes and whatever vegetables we chose, and then tortillas. We always did tortillas, but to involve more of the Community, we put it out to the Community. Everyone made cemaitand would bring them in.”

SRPMIC Thanksgiving Drive Thru Turkey Giveaway in Lehi.

The Community Thanksgiving Dinner has always been about bringing people together. That tradition of togetherness still holds today, explained Community Relations Event Manager Yvonne Schaaf.

“Volunteers have always been a part of the event,” Schaaf said. “I believe in the beginning it was Community members that organized the dinner; everyone came together to help prep, cook, set up [and] get everything all prepared. Think big family dinner! It has just evolved into what it is now. Volunteers now come from all different organizations in and outside of the Community. Even families come together to assist.”

This year has proven to be an unprecedented year, with COVID-19 hitting the world. With many preventive measures in place, one of the key safety rules is to avoid large gatherings of people, which puts a hold on many of Salt River’s annual events. The Thanksgiving Dinner from Community Relations is no different; this year, it went virtual.

In place of an in-person dinner, different at-home activities were designed for people to partake in. November 10 was the day when people could start to register for these fun virtual events. November 20 was the deadline to submit an entry for the Holiday Side Dish Challenge, in which participants submitted photos and/or videos showcasing their best Thanksgiving side dish. Winning participants won a $50 Bashas’ gift card. The Turkey Calling Contest ended on November 23; participants had to shoot a 10-second video performing their best turkey call. They had a chance to win a Samsung TV or even a Nintendo Switch.

On November 16, Community Relations presented the band Ramoncito & Co. in a prerecorded concert featuring waila and cumbia music to dance to while cooks worked on their turkey dinner at home.

“Today, the world we live in is preventing us as a Community to gather. I see that while [a virtual event is] not what we would want, it’s what we need as a Community to protect each other and ourselves,” said Schaaf. “We need to do our part. Families need to get creative in their planning this year for all the holidays coming up. Think about what you love most (doing, eating, watching); focus on that and expand on it at home. It’s our time to work together to do something good and meaningful …. We will all come back stronger in 2021, and when it’s safe we will gather again. I’m looking forward to that time … to eat, enjoy entertainment and visit. The Community Thanksgiving Dinner will be back!”

Just because this year’s event is different, the spirit of the event is the same as ever. The Community’s Thanksgiving event goes back a long way, and stories about it bring familiar feelings of togetherness and fun.

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