Hundreds of Sanibel residents will celebrate Thanksgiving a little early this year.
Sanibel's annual Thanksgiving Celebration service will take place on Sunday, November 24th at 6:45 p.m. at the Community House at 2173 Periwinkle Way. The free, non-denominational service will feature musical and artistic performances from the Big Arts Community Chorus and Sanibel Youth Choir.
Mary Bondurant, head of John R. Wood's Bondurant Realty Group and this year's Thanksgiving Celebration coordinator, expects over 200 Sanibel residents to attend. The celebration is an annual tradition that has transpired, in some shape or form, for over 30 years, according to Bondurant.
"Not only do we hear stories and prayers and all sorts of things, we get lots of music. The choir has a small performance. We get everybody to sing God Bless America, at the end we thank everybody for coming, have a small reception at the end," Bondurant said.
Another tradition Bondurant mentioned was that a local child would sing "Count Your Blessings" each year. In recent years the Sanibel Youth Choir performs it.
"The most exciting part is we have Pilgrims and Pocahontas and surprise guests that arrive, sometimes we know sometimes we don't," she said.
Bondurant believes it's an important event to keep life in perspective.
"The Thanksgiving celebration is a community event for sharing your blessings with those less fortunate. It makes Thanksgiving more meaningful," she said.
The celebration is sponsored by a number of local businesses, including Jerry's Supermarket and Bailey's General Store. The event will benefit Friends in Service Here of Sanibel-Captiva (F.I.S.H). Attendees are encouraged to bring donations for F.I.S.H., which lends a helping hand to those in need on Sanibel or Captiva who live, work, or visit.
"We figured since this holiday is about giving, the community could come to this celebration the Sunday before Thanksgiving to bring a monetary donation or food for the food pantry of F.I.S.H.," Bondurant said. "People aren't aware of how much the food pantry helps those on the island."
In 2012 alone, F.I.S.H. provided services to over 800 households on Sanibel and Captiva. They distribute food from their food pantry, donate money to families for emergency assistance and client support, among other numerous programs all predicated on helping families get by.
The event used to be restricted to members of the four original churches on Sanibel, according to Marj Nordstrom, who relocated to Sanibel in 1990. She is also the founder of the Sanibel Youth Choir and used to organize the Thanksgiving Celebration before handing the torch, or "corn on the cob," to Bondurant several years ago.
Each church would take turns hosting the celebration, but Nordstrom and several other residents believed it should be a community event.
"To get more of the community involved we decided to change it to a community event at the Sanibel Community House. Them opening it up to our event it allowed us to make the whole community be a part of it," Bondurant said.
Bondurant said they also encourage all clergy of the island to participate in some shape or form.
"We invite all of the clergy of the island in some way, either for reading scripture, proclamations, stories about Thanksgiving or performing skits amongst themselves, basically storytelling, to keep it so that people of any denomination can be a part of it."
Nordstrom said she was pleased with the direction the Thanksgiving Celebration is headed.
"Mainly what I enjoy is I wanted to get it to a place where someone would dedicate the time for this. We'd be really missing something if we didn't celebrate Thanksgiving. I think we've gotten past that with Mary running it," she said.
Bondurant said it's an easy task with so much community support.
"It's basically to the point where every year you can mark your calendar for the Sunday before Thanksgiving at 6:45 at the Community House. We're going to be having our annual celebration," she said. "It really makes me feel good doing this. I love this island."