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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 24, 2006

Needy thankful for the volunteers

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Yosie Kenan, at 1 month old too young to enjoy that pumpkin pie, gets a Thanksgiving kiss from mom, Shari Kamaka, 22, at IHS in Iwilei.

Photos by REBECCA BREYER | The Honolulu Advertiser

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Leland Wong, 11, of Wahiawa, spent his Thanksgiving volunteering at the Institute for Human Services in Iwilei.

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Rentanin Ham, 20, holds her son, Rickalyn Kanto, 1, while her daughter, Karelyn Kanto, 2, dances at the Thanksgiving dinner at the Institute for Human Services in Iwilei.

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Rentanin Ham, 20, had never had a Thanksgiving meal until yesterday.

Cradling her 1-year-old, Ham, who immigrated to Hawai'i from Micronesia this year, took a bite of turkey and smiled.

"It's really good," she said, quietly.

Ham, who lives in the women's shelter, was one of an estimated 600 people who sat down for a free Thanksgiving meal at the Institute of Human Services on Sumner Street, courtesy of volunteers from the Hilton Hawaiian Village.

The entire spread turkey, cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce, rolls, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie was prepared and served by about 60 employees of the hotel chain.

Hilton has been providing the free holiday meal for 11 years.

"It's become a tradition for our company," said Noel G. Trainor, Hilton general manager, who served food yesterday with his wife and two daughters. "There is no better feeling than to be with others on a day like this and help make someone else's day a little bit better."

The best part about the annual Thanksgiving meal for Ignacio Malabanan, 63, is seeing the tables full of hungry people.

"I like to see the people come in and have a good meal," said Malabanan, a volunteer and resident at IHS. "A lot of guys look forward to it."

Though he works full time with Roberts Hawaii, Jeremy Young, 24, has been staying at the men's shelter for about two years.

He kicked his methamphetamine habit last year and is trying to find a place to live with his girlfriend and her two kids.

"This place is a stepping stone," said Young, who helped set up yesterday but missed dinner because he had to work. "For me, it's ... better than being on the streets."

A crowd began to gather a couple of hours before dinner started at 3 p.m. yesterday.

Hotel and shelter volunteers scrambled to get the hall ready, setting up round tables, laying down tablecloths and prepping the food to be served.

Veronica Kim only started working at the Hilton as an employee relations manager 18 months ago.

Already, she's looking forward to serving hot meals with her hotel co-workers at the Kau Kau Wagon at Gateway Park in Chinatown this Christmas.

In fact, charity events are so popular with Hilton workers, organizers have to limit the number of volunteers.

"What I really enjoy is being around my fellow team members in this environment," said Kim, 27, of Hawai'i Kai, who is four months pregnant with her first child.

"It helps us all remember what's really important."

At Next Step, the state's emergency homeless shelter in Kaka'ako, volunteers put together a party for the shelter's 300-plus residents.

Volunteers, including doctors and students from the neighboring University of Hawai'i John A. Burns School of Medicine, doled out turkey and all the trimmings in front of a large tarp erected over rows of covered picnic tables.

"This is a treat for us," said Georgette Garcia, a 52-year-old from Kalihi who has lived at the shelter since May.

Theresa Alcantra, a 25-year-old who has also lived at the shelter since May, worked most of the day yesterday helping set up and arrange the tables and centerpieces.

"It's fun over here," said Alcantra, who is from Wai'anae. "I think we're so lucky."

Staff writer Peter Boylan contributed to this report.

Reach Catherine E. Toth at ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.