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StarBulletin.com

Cornucopia of blessings


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POSTED: Friday, November 27, 2009

A couple of hundred people more than last year attended the annual Thanksgiving luncheon at the Neal Blaisdell Center yesterday.

While the poor economy may have been a cause for the increase, many came for a chance to spend the holiday with others.

Daniel de Castro, Salvation Army spokesman, said they served about 2,000 people but were prepared to serve 2,200.

“;There are more people who may need some help, so that's why they came today,”; he said. “;We're glad to serve them a Thanksgiving meal.”;

A diverse group of senior citizens, homeless, and working families with children attended the 39th year of the event.

“;It's a blessing because you don't like to be alone on Thanksgiving or any holiday,”; said Nick Maurino, 75, of Waikiki.

Maurino came with a friend of his whom he also cares for because he wanted to be around others.

For several the meal became a family reunion.

Cathy Maiden moved from Virginia to Hawaii 10 months ago after losing her job and found another job as a preschool teacher's assistant in Honolulu.

She brought her son, who came to Hawaii 10 days earlier, because she wanted him to see the community come together in Honolulu.

“;As soon as you walk in, you are embraced,”; said Jayne Oravec, who just got out of prison last month and is staying at TJ Mahoney & Associates, a women's rehabilitation program in Kalihi.

She said holidays in prison the last four years “;sucked.”;

“;It's lonely and it's real heartbreaking,”; she said. “;Especially the lack of family.”;

She said she would have been at the halfway house yesterday if it were not for the dinner, which became her first Thanksgiving with her 8-year-old daughter, Weetonia, in four years.

“;I'm overwhelmed,”; she said. “;I'm glad this is here, because this gave me an opportunity to be with my family.”;

Oravec, who is returning to school and looking for a job, was joined by two friends, including her best friend, Charlie Dionne. A peer coach at Mental Health Kokua, Dionne, 59, met Weetonia when she was crying at a community center because she could not see her mother in prison three years ago.

After getting permission, he brought Weetonia to the prison every weekend. And when her mother was in a Kentucky prison, he took Weetonia to an Oahu prison where she could speak with her mother by video.

Weetonia said the best part of her day was “;being with my family.”;

For 17-year-old volunteer Dominic Picardal, serving and cleaning up after the dinner was more than just about a providing a meal.

“;You want to give back to your community,”; he said. “;It's about helping everybody feel good.”;