A familiar feast

By ABBY BELDEN

abelden@dailynews.net

The food was free at the Ellis County Ministerial Alliance Thanksgiving Day Feast on Thursday.

And so were the smiles and good company found inside the National Guard Armory in Hays.

The annual Thanksgiving Day Feast put on by the Ellis County Ministerial Alliance fed hundreds looking for a meal and even more volunteers, according to Pastor Kyle Ermoian of Celebration Community Church.

"We had 350 people served here today," Ermoian said. "Plus 100 volunteers this year, would be my guess."

Ermoian, who helps coordinate the event, said the decorated tables filled with people made him feel great.

The dinner, which was provided by Pam's Bakery Shop and Catering, offered a place for individuals and families in the community a place to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Those in attendance had the choice of the finest holiday foods -- ham, turkey, stuffing, green-bean casserole, mashed potatoes and gravy, coleslaw, and a selection of pies -- with an option to get seconds.

Heather Ramos, WaKeeney, was one of the nine in her group that attended the annual dinner.

"Well, we just don't really have a place big enough to do dinner," Ramos said.

This was her fourth year attending the event.

Ramos said she appreciated the dinner and being able to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday with friends and family.

For Brett Gray and his parents, it was the perfect place to go for just the three of them.

Gray, Russell, said the dinner was nice because he didn't have to "do the cooking and clean the mess up."

His mother, Norine Gray, agreed but added since it was just her and her husband at home in Hays, it was easier to come to the dinner, sit and enjoy good company than cook at home.

"When my kids were little, it was different. ... But now everyone is doing their own thing," she said.

Norine said she has attended the dinner and similar events in past.

"I think it's a good deal," she said. "I think they should do it with all the holidays."

The Thanksgiving Day Feast wasn't just for those who came to the armory.

To-go meals were taken to individuals at their homes if they could not make it to the dinner.

The giving didn't stop there, though.

Bags of groceries were sent home with individuals and families who attended the feast.

"Over 300 bags of food were collected and distributed," Ermoian said.

Ermoian said 100 volunteers worked Wednesday night to bag groceries, which included bread, canned goods, cereals and more. The volunteers also helped set up and decorate tables.

The groceries bagged were from donations collected at Walmart SuperCenter and both Dillons stores in Hays.

Ceena Owens and her husband, Frank, volunteered their time, but not to work the dinner portion of the event.

"We've been patrons for a few years, and this year it was our turn to give back," she said.

The Owens, who own Elements of Massage, set up two massage chairs and were giving free massages throughout the event.

The feast volunteer positions filled for the event included greeters, servers, table hosts, kitchen help and cleanup crew.

Tim Speno, his wife, Jessica, and their four children volunteered for the first time this year, hoping to make it a new family tradition.

Speno worked as a table host.

"We seat the family ... then we get them their drink and whatever else they need to make it enjoyable," Speno said.

He said those who attended the event were gracious and thankful.

"We're very blessed to be a part of it. ... We are really glad Hays does something like this," he said.

Speno said he and his family heard about the feast and wanted to volunteer.

"We heard it on the radio. ... And as a family, we wanted to share this with our kids," he said.

Speno said those who organized the event did a good job, and the passion of those involved made the event wonderful.

With such an event, Ermoian said it can be quite a bit of work.

"It is, but it's fun," Ermoian said. "My wife, Debbie, and I, this is our Thanksgiving."