Kailua-Kona rolls out free Thanksgiving Day events

  • Volunteer Dennis Lawson, right, serves gravy to a guest at Jackie Rey's 9th Annual Thanksgiving Dinner in 2016. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Wattie Green, left, and Sulia Poloa put out desert dishes for the 2016 Meet and Eat at Kealakehe Intermediate School. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Volunteer Jeannie Kutsunai, right, serves desert to Aidalyne Transfiguracion at the 2016 Meet and Eat Thanksgiving Dinner at Kealakehe Intermediate School. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — Thanksgiving is always a chance to join family and friends around the dinner table while sharing a meal and each other’s company.

But a number of local organizations and companies are inviting the public to take part in their own special events this holiday week — where strangers are encouraged to break bread together.

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Tonight, the Kona Task Force on Feeding the Hungry will host its 26th annual “Meet and Eat” Thanksgiving dinner at the Kealakehe Intermediate School cafeteria. Doors open at 5:15 and dinner runs to about 7 p.m.

For two and a half decades, the Task Force has along with its partner organizations offered weekly meals. The dinners started as an effort to provide for single-parent families, said Ardie Ikeda.

In their two and a half decades, he said, they’ve missed one Wednesday, and that was because of a hurricane. Dinner will include a turkey and the fixings and is open to everyone looking for dinner and some company, hence the name.

“We want to have the meal,” Ikeda said, “but we also want people to interact with each other.”

The Thanksgiving “Meet and Eat” will also recognize the volunteers who help with the weekly dinners. In a given week, they serve anywhere from 80-150 meals. On Thanksgiving though, the number’s closer to 400.

While there is no cost to take part in the dinner, Ikeda said they are building a bagged rice pyramid and are welcoming donations of bagged rice. Their goal is to collect 2,500 pounds of rice for The Food Basket.

The Thursday holiday will host a number of options, too.

The annual Wobble Gobble kicks off Thanksgiving Day with an invitation to runners and walkers of all ages to take some time outside before planting around the dinner table.

This will be Big Island Running Co.’s 13th annual Wobble Gobble and kicks off at 8 a.m. at the Walua Road trailhead.

Participants have the option of going 1 mile, 3.5 miles or the full run, which measures close to 6.4 miles. Participants for all the distances start at the same time.

Melissa Braswell, co-owner of Big Island Running Co., says the free event doesn’t require any sign-ups, but there is a suggested donation of a can of food, which will go to The Food Basket.

Last year’s event brought out 380 people and collected between 300 and 400 pounds for the Food Basket.

“It’s definitely grown over the years,” she said, calling the race a “low-key, great way for people to get together to be active and healthy.”

Later that day, Jackie Rey’s Ohana Grill will be throwing its doors open in partnership with The Salvation Army to offer Thanksgiving dinner to anybody looking for a turkey dinner and some company. The meal starts about 10:30 and continues to about 1:30 p.m., said Anna Schmitt, a dining room manager at Jackie Rey’s. She added that everybody who comes will be fed.

Schmitt said they are still seeking donations of cooked turkeys. Unstuffed cooked turkeys can be dropped off at the restaurant Wednesday after 4 p.m.

This will be the dinner’s 10th year.

“It’s a wonderful, beautiful day,” said Schmitt.

The event is free and open to anybody, no questions asked. The meal will include turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy and other fixings, all freshly made.

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In the decade Jackie Rey’s and The Salvation Army have joined together, she said, the event has become something people look forward to and see as a community meal for anybody looking for a bit of fellowship on Thanksgiving Day.

About half of the plated meals are delivered throughout the community. Schmitt said last year they dished up about 420 meals to go and served between 800 and 900 in total.