The Montana Rescue Mission served meals to more than 600 people Thursday after managing to get its dining room and kitchen up and running two days before the holiday.

After almost four months of repairs, the Montana Rescue Mission's kitchen was bigger and its dining room had a fresh coat of paint when guests began to stream in for the shelter's Thanksgiving meal.

In October, the shelter promised the holiday meal would happen, but it was a hard deadline to meet, said MRM Executive Director Perry Roberts.

The Mission had already planned to remodel the basement of the men's shelter when, beginning July 29, more than two million gallons of water spewed in the basement of the charity’s Minnesota Avenue facilities. In the men’s shelter, the flood damage put the health center, kitchen and dining room out of commission.

But, Tuesday, the shelter was able to declare its kitchen up to code and deliver on the promise of a free holiday meal for its guests.

The shelter delivered about 335 meals to people in the community who are either low income or planned to spend the holiday alone. The mission served the rest of the meals at 1 p.m. at the shelter, where volunteers waited on the guests. 

The shelter's guests are for the most part homeless and without the means to serve their own holiday meal. 

Jennifer Kidder and her son Citron Leroy, who turned 1 this month, said it didn't feel like a holiday for them. Kidder became homeless for the first time in her life this year, she said. She said she's found few opportunities in Billings and she struggles to find a place to stay with her son.

She and Citron planned to spend the night on the street, she said. 

It is a challenge many mothers face while homeless, Roberts said. While this year the shelter was able to get employment for many homeless men either at the sugar beet factory or in a local service industry, homeless women struggle for the same opportunities. Only about 10 percent of the shelter's women are employed, Roberts said. 

Kidder and her son are some of the 25 percent of new guests the shelter have every year at Thanksgiving, Roberts said. Some are have recently become homeless, while others are just passing through. 

Jessie Navarro was a guest who said he would not be back for the meal next year. Navarro was a transient worker, who had for the past several years traveled from city to city for work. Despite being homeless himself, Navarro said he gives back to places like the mission and people living on the street. When he has a dollar to give, he gives it, he said. 

Navarro said he plans to move in the next few months and start a construction company. 

Many local Billings organizations worked to help the shelter make the Thanksgiving meal possible, especially with the kitchens out of order for most of the month.

MRM Food Services Manager Debbie Patterson said Passages Prerelease Center made the mashed potatoes and gravy for the meal, while the Radisson Hotel and First Interstate Bank allowed the shelter to use their kitchens to cook. Turkeys were prepared at the Billings Food Bank by a host of volunteers, and the mission made the green bean casserole fresh Thursday afternoon. In addition, more than 40 pies came in from Lockwood students and others in the Billings community. 

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