Getting - and giving - help on Thanksgiving

Hannah Kalis usually skips holidays with her own family.

She’s too busy organizing community meals for the St. Francis House of Puyallup.

“I never go to my family for Thanksgiving, for Christmas,” said the spry, 77-year-old from Sumner. “They miss me, but this is my family, too.”

Her family grew to about 150 people Thursday at the St. Francis House’s annual Thanksgiving dinner in Puyallup’s National Guard armory. It was a big turnout, said Kalis, who has been putting together community meals for 20 years.

She brought the guests together for a prayer circle at the start of the meal, asking them to, “Thank God for what we have.”

One family came just say to thank you to the Puyallup nonprofit.

Mona Villegas said the group helped bring her family out of homelessness over the past month.

St. Francis House helped her husband find a job at a restaurant and connected the family with temporary housing. They moved in on Wednesday.

“We are really grateful,” she said as she ate the holiday meal with her four children. “Without them, we’d still be in a hotel.”

Others came to the meal looking for company.

Janet Byrd, 75, of Puyallup, has visited the annual dinner for about five years. She usually likes to help out, but she recently hurt her back and had to let herself be cared for this time.

“I’m on tough times and I’m by myself,” she said. “There are a lot of people I can talk to here and it’s a beautiful meal. I feel really blessed that they provide this meal for us.”

She sat across from Dorene Svinth, who brought her son and his three children. Her son has hit a rough patch recently. The Thanksgiving meal gave Svinth a way to link up with her son and grandchildren for a good day out together.

“I’m just grateful the community put this on for the families,” she said.

The St. Francis House hosts free dinners five nights a week at the Puyallup armory. Different churches and community organizations volunteer to take certain nights of the week.

Kalsi is well-known to volunteers and people who’ve come to the meals in the past. She bustled about the armory giving directions to volunteers and taking time for visitors.

“God gives me the energy,” she said.

The Thanksgiving meal was cooked and served by members of the Calvary Community Church of Sumner.

“It really is a privilege to make this meal,” said Patti Harvey, a church member who has volunteered at the Thanksgiving dinner for seven years. “They’re able to have a warm meal every night.”

Another church member, Rich Bembenek, coordinated the holiday meal and led Kalis’ prayer. He said he likes volunteering for the community meals because, “I can relate to being hungry.”

Kalis made sure to show her own gratitude to the different groups that cook meals for the St. Francis House meals program.

It’s one reason she kicks off the dinners with a prayer, so the church groups can hear that “when (the visitors) say, ‘Amen,’ they mean it. It’s from the heart.”