By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
Thanksgiving is a day to reflect on the blessings in our lives and, for many, to enjoy those blessings with family, feasting and football.
For those without homes, without families, and — for some — without hope, the Salvation Army, with the kokua of many local businesses, churches, community organizations and volunteers, provides a hot, delicious Thanksgiving meal of turkey with all the trimmings.
Thursday marked the 28th year that the Hilo Temple Corps has served a holiday banquet to those in need of a meal, fellowship, or both, and hundreds showed up at Aunty Sally Kaleohano’s Luau Hale. Some were there to serve; others, to be served.
“It’s a blessing to do this and people count on it,” said Salvation Army Capt. Shoshonnah Ruwethin. “They know that for Thanksgiving, on Thanksgiving Day, the Salvation Army will be doing a meal. So it’s a good time for people to come out and enjoy themselves. And we’re just enjoying it.”
Shortly into the food service which started at noon, Ruwethin said that things were going “mostly according to plan.”
“We had a small mishap with the raffle tickets this morning,” she said and laughed.
A cross-section of the community, including blue-shirted members of Waiakea High School’s Interact Club, manned the tongs, ladles, spatulas and spoons in the serving line, while others provided table service to those who came to enjoy the holiday bounty.
Ashley Brooks, a 14-year-old Waiakea freshman and Interact Club member, said she volunteered to kokua “because it feels good.”
David Kealoha of Hilo said he came to enjoy the food and camaraderie with his brother, Edward Molina, the only family he has on the island.
“He’s had, like, three heart attacks so far,” said Kealoha. “The last time, he passed out and got into a pretty bad accident. Thank God, he’s with us still. I brought him down because we have no family here; it’s just him and I.”
Faith Lyons of Keaukaha sat in front of the Aunty Sally’s stage as longtime local entertainers Bobo and Boyson Brown were belted out the hapa-haole classic “Hilo, My Home Town.”
“I told my daughter I was bored sitting in front of the TV all day, so I decided to take a walk. A long walk. And I’m here,” Lyons said. “I’m enjoying this. People have the holiday spirit.”
Asked about the food, Lyons replied: “It’s good.”
A Puna woman who identified herself only as Jessie said that her husband, a laid-off construction worker, has been unable to find work the past couple of years and she has only been able to find part-time work to support her two young daughters.
“It’s hard right now, but we’re still hopeful,” she said. “I’m very thankful that people care enough to make sure my kids have a nice Thanksgiving.”
Ruwethin said this year’s banquet is dedicated to Hilo Temple Corps member Donna Parong, who’s handled much of the event’s organization over the years, but who was hospitalized for surgery in July.
“She’s just not able to be here this Thanksgiving,” Ruwethin said. “We want to make her proud.”
The yearly community meal has been a labor of love over the years for the Parong family, and Donna Parong’s husband, Dio, and sister-in-law, Melody, continue to do yeoman service to ensure that no one left the meal with empty stomachs.
“They’re very key people that we’re so blessed to have,” Ruwethin said.
One volunteer filling Styrofoam cups with beverages sang along loudly with the Browns on “Surround Me with Love,” bringing smiles to those within earshot.
Kealoha said that for him, Thanksgiving is about “the importance of family.”
“We’ve lost everyone in the family over the years. It’s just him (Molina) and I,” he said. “You don’t miss it until you lose something that is precious. It’s a joy to be around those who are less fortunate, and it’s great that I can bring him here and have a feast. And I’m very grateful for that.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.