The Riser family’s Thanksgiving feast will have to wait, as usual, until they celebrate a personal holiday tradition of feeding others.
Harold and Kelly Riser, of Worth Township, will spend Thanksgiving Day the same way they have for six years — preparing and serving food at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in State College and Mount Nittany United Methodist Church in Lemont.
“We figure we can make a turkey for ourselves any time really,” Kelly Riser said. “Does it really matter? You can celebrate Thanksgiving any day you want.”
The Risers’ commitment to volunteering can be traced back to the 1990s when their daughters, Karley and Kiley, were children.
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The sisters, separated by six years, played on softball teams that raised funds every year from January to June for traveling up and down the East Coast in summer. The community supported them, and the Risers decided to give back.
“I think the first thing we did with them was Memorial Day, and we took them to different cemeteries and put flags on the graves of veterans,” Kelly Riser said. “One year we did Toys for Tots, and we had them sort and wrap gifts. We went to Centre Crest one year to visit people and sing.”
“The main reason we had the girls do that was the community supported those kids for so long that it was time to give back,” Harold Riser said.
The Risers began their Thanksgiving tradition in 2009, when their daughters had to work on the holiday.
They were faced with the possibility of spending much of Thanksgiving alone until friends from Mount Nittany suggested they volunteer. Julie Valora, their niece, is the administrative assistant at St. Andrew’s, and she asked them to help too.
“It turned out to be a fun time, and we met a lot of great people,” Harold Riser said. “When we were done doing both churches it wasn’t really a question of if we’d do it again. With the girls in school and working, we thought we’d have to do it again.”
The Risers have a routine each Thanksgiving that lasts about nine hours.
They have to get to St. Andrew’s, which serves a meal from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., by about 9 a.m. for Harold to mash potatoes.
“He’s the mashed potato guy,” Kelly Riser said. “He’s famous for that.”
“I don’t know about famous,” he said. “A few years ago they had this little electric beater trying to beat all these mashed potatoes, and it broke. We got a hand masher, and I just started mashing potatoes with the butter, milk, salt and pepper in it, which it turned out to be good. I guess I’m the potato guy now.”
The Risers leave St. Andrew’s at about 1 p.m. to let their golden retrievers outside, then go to Lemont to serve meals. The church will serve and deliver meals from 3:30 to 6 p.m.
The Risers see some of the same people at both churches.
“Most of the time it’s because their family isn’t around here, and they can’t go see them, so they come for fellowship and food,” Kelly Riser said. “It’s open to a lot of people — everyone from students that couldn’t go home to people in need. We see people that don’t have their wives or husbands that have passed away. It’s nice to see them come for the companionship.”
Mount Nittany banquet coordinator Wendy Franklin said offering Thanksgiving meals wouldn’t be possible without volunteers.
“We have people that donate food, the Houserville church donates pies, and I’d say 50 people help throughout Wednesday and Thursday,” Franklin said. “I think it’s fabulous to have so many people pitch in. If we didn’t have the community’s support, it couldn’t be done.”
They might get extra help this year, because Karley and Kiley Riser are planning to volunteer with their parents — as long as they don’t get called in to work.
“They may not be able to go to both or be able to stay for all of it, but we’re planning for it,” Kelly Riser said. “It’ll be nice to have them both there.”
The family will sit down for their Thanksgiving meal Saturday.
“I’ll be turkeyed out,” Harold Riser said.
“He will be,” Kelly Riser added. “I won’t.”