JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Michael Earney received a heaping portion of turkey from volunteer Bill Yano yesterday evening at the Next Step Homeless Shelter in Kakaako, where a Thanksgiving feast was served, complete with entertainment. CLICK FOR LARGE
Kaukau in Kakaako
Residents of a Kakaako homeless shelter enjoy a bountiful Thanksgiving dinner
VOLUNTEERS won the thanks of the homeless for giving them their first Thanksgiving at the Next Step shelter in Kakaako.
"Thank you for coming," George Kekai said he told the volunteers. "It kind of helps a little bit to know people care."
Kekai, who resides at the shelter, said dinners there can be sparse. "It's really good when we get things like this. It's a feast, it's great," Kekai said, finishing up his imu-cooked turkey meal.
About 350 people, including about 90 children, staying at the shelter listened to live music and ate Thanksgiving dinners composed of 20 shredded imu-cooked turkeys, several side dishes and, for dessert, pumpkin pies and soft-serve ice cream with slushies.
About 40 volunteers from the University of Hawaii medical school and community members helped serve the food.
"I want everyone here to have as much a normal life as possible," said Tammy Kubo, who organized the turkey day celebration along with shelter staff member Roz Welch. "It's good for the kids, and we have so much to be thankful for."
Kubo, who also throws a monthly birthday party for the children at the shelter, has come to know many of the people there. She pointed out one woman who really loves onions.
"I try to find something about the person I can talk to them about," she said. "It's a really happy place."
The shelter seemed more like a block party with live music from the four-member band Vaihi. Tables were set up under a large tent with floodlights illuminating the area. The meal started about an hour ahead of schedule because the people were so hungry, Kubo said.
"This is the coolest (shelter) I've ever been to," Kekai said while sitting at one of the many tables set up in the parking lot.
After the music, people won blankets, pillows, boxes of cookies, gift certificates and other raffle prizes during a contest.
"Everything" is what Mermy Petiru said she hoped to win. "First night I see this. It's good." It was a warm welcome for Petiru, who was spending her first night at the shelter.
Inside the warehouse, children played games with volunteers while others had fun with bubbles or spinning tops.
Preparations for the event began at about 8:30 a.m. as UH medical students and community volunteers removed the turkeys from the ground in Kaneohe and began shredding them.
Volunteers also felt good, helping people in need.
"I want to set an example for my child and grandchild," said Dr. Noni Koch, a gynecologist who was passing out plates to the homeless. "If I change one person's life, I'm doing something."
Maryanne Sullivan of Makiki saw the event as a beginning of sorts. She said, "We can't do a lot. It's the first step in maybe doing more.
"When you first walk in, you feel a little uncomfortable. Now we'll just jump in. Hey, it's good. It's not so scary and it feels good."