The Thanksgiving Day menu Liza Christ prepared for herself was simple: one baloney sandwich.

“It's getting near the end of the month and I am low on food,” Christ said.

Paul Bykonen had a similarly simple menu planned: a bowl of soup. “Our food stamps are pending,” Bykonen said.

Then there was George Bird. He traveled from Clinton, Iowa, to Billings for what appeared to be a promising job prospect. It didn't pan out. That was four months ago.

He has been staying at the Montana Rescue Mission since, trying to earn enough money to get back home to his pregnant wife and son.

Multiply their stories by 400 and connect the dots. The picture that emerges is one of about 1,200 people who did not have enough cash on hand to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving meal. They got one just the same.

Christ, Bykonen and his wife, Janie, and Bird feasted on turkey and all the trimmings at the Billings Food Bank on Thursday.

“I am so blessed,” Christ said in between bites of a buttered dinner roll.

Food, volunteers and diners were in plentiful supply as the Food Bank hosted the annual community meal for the first time in its new facility at 2112 Fourth Ave. N.

For 27 years, the Billings Food Bank has been preparing its community Thanksgiving meal with volunteers from the Chefs and Cooks of Montana organization. There were two volunteers for every one diner.

Sydney Wehmeyer, 17, a senior at Skyview High, volunteered along with members of her family and friends. Her family postponed their own Thanksgiving until Friday so they could help out at the Food Bank.

“I am grateful for the luxuries I have had,” Wehmeyer said. “It makes me feel good to be able to give to people who don't have that. It is a blessing.”

John Olsen of Billings is a veteran of the U.S. Navy. He said he could easily empathize with those who are away from loved ones at this time of year. His goal was go offer up “some cheer” and “some compassion.”

Jim Huskey, his wife, sons and relatives have made volunteering at the Food Bank a family tradition. This was their fifth year serving. “It's one of those things where the Lord blesses you and you channel that blessing to help others,” Huskey said. “That's our goal. It's a blessing to help them out. We are the servants, they are our guests.”

Guests were treated to the music of a strolling guitar player and an assortment of desserts that would rival any bakery. There was pumpkin pie, apple pie, pumpkin cake and red velvet cake. Guests could request to-go boxes, and many did. It was a dining bonanza.

It was also a day for thanks — and a day for giving.

Mark Higgins, owner of Montannabis, a marijuana business, had a money clip of $100 bills and was handing them out like Santa Claus. He scoured the room, looking for small children. Wherever there were youngsters, a $100 bill appeared.

Higgins said he is going through a difficult personal issue. Rather than sit home and feel sorry for himself, he and his daughter decided to lend their time and talents to the Food Bank. “Besides,” he said, “the look on the parents' face is priceless.”

The look on Tana Shaulis' face spoke volumes. The expression was a hybrid of shock, joy and confusion.

“I almost gave it back,” she said. “I thought he was handing me a business card with a $100 bill accidentally stuck on the back.”

She paused to help one of her four children maneuver a mound of mashed potatoes then looked up. Tears had welled in her eyes. She plans to use the money to buy diapers.

“People really do care,” she said.

Contact Cindy Uken at cuken@billingsgazette.com or 657-1287.

Contact Cindy Uken at cuken@billingsgazette.com or 657-1287.

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