By Ken de la Bastide
Tribune enterprise editor
They might be juniors at Kokomo High School, but for exchange students Miguel Buganza, of Mexico, and Keita Komatsuzaki, of Japan, this is their first Thanksgiving.
And they spent it helping others — serving a traditional turkey dinner with other volunteers of the Kokomo Rescue Mission and
Kokomo Urban Outreach.
Buganza and Komatsuzaki volunteered at Grace United Methodist Church.
“I like the idea of helping people,” said Buganza, who was assisting with carryout meals. “Some people couldn’t have a meal like this. It’s like family.
“There are a lot of people here,” he said.
“This is a big deal. There are a lot of people that need help.”
For Komatsuzaki, helping out at the annual event allowed him to meet a lot of people.
“This is not usual in Japan,” he said. “I like it. I’m surprised at how many people are here.”
He said he was excited to share the American holiday with his host family.
Volunteers served thousands of meals at 11 locations around Kokomo and in Tipton. For some, the work begin Wednesday, when the first dinner was held at Trinity United Methodist Church in Kokomo.
Dave Durham oversaw Thursday’s dinner at Grace United Methodist Church. After coordinating meal deliveries for 20 years, this was Durham’s first year at the helm.
“I stepped up this year,” he said while overlooking the packed dining room. “I just want to make sure everyone has a good experience.”
Durham said people think he is under a lot of stress, but he said the volunteers show up and know what to do.
“This has been a good experience,” he said. “I’ll do it again with the support of a lot of volunteers.”
Durham said there appeared to be more carryout meals than in previous years.
This was the first year for Alexis Lees, of Peru, to volunteer at the meal.
“It’s been hectic,” said Lees, whose father, Anthony Brunnener, is the chief cook at the rescue mission.
Her role was head server, meaning she directed volunteers where to fill in along the serving line.
“I think it’s cool that we can reach out to people,” she said.
The family planned to share a meal together later that evening.
Esther Barnard has been volunteering for five years.
“It’s nice to be able to help people,” she said. “I feel like I’m giving something to people, even if it’s just sitting down and talking with them.”
In Tipton County, where the meal is in its fifth year, there was a line of people waiting.
Organizer Jeanne Brackens said the goal is to make sure everyone gets a meal.
She said there have been a lot of calls for meals to be delivered, more than in previous years.
Brackens said Kevin Porter and the McCormick family prepare all the food, starting at 6 a.m. About 200 meals were provided.
“It’s nice that people can come and visit with their neighbors,” she said. “This is a community event.”
Stesha Williams has volunteered in the past, but this year, she was enjoying a meal with her parents. It’s something they wanted to do for years.
“We just decided it was a year for someone else to cook,” she said.