WENATCHEE — As he watched families pass through the line to pick up Thanksgiving meals, Tom Nees said keeping families together helps prevent homelessness.

“Our focus is really ... on keeping families in their homes, and so, because of that, we want to provide a Thanksgiving meal for a family to share in their home,” Nees said.

This was the 18th year Serve Wenatchee has held Baskets of Blessings. Volunteers put together 450 food baskets at Wenatchee First Assembly of God Church, where they were picked up by families in need.

Three hundred baskets were packed with traditional Thanksgiving foods like stuffing, sweet potatoes, dinner rolls and cranberry sauce, and 150 were loaded with Hispanic foods like masa, molé, pinto beans and rice. Everyone received a bag of potatoes and a pumpkin pie.

After collecting their sides, participants headed down the street to Grocery Outlet, where they received a turkey or two chickens.

Serve Wenatchee’s tradition of feeding families on Thanksgiving started in a slightly different style. The first four years, families were served a meal at the Numerica Performing Arts Center before the group opted for a change and switched to food baskets.

The idea was for families to be able to “take the food, cook it in the comfort of their own home, have those wonderful leftovers,” said Bob Shepard, Serve Wenatchee’s original director. “And we could feed many more people that way.”

Nees said traditions like Thanksgiving can tighten family bonds and keep some family members off the streets if they fall upon hard times.

“The most humane and cost-effective way for a community to deal with homelessness is to prevent it before it happens,” Nees said.

He added, “The problem is in this community we have a 1.5% vacancy rate. If someone is evicted from their home because of their inability to pay their rent, or because they’ve got something that came up … re-entering into the housing market is difficult, if not impossible.”

On Tuesday, Shepard passed out packaged pumpkin pies to families as they left the church.

“Thanksgiving is a rather unusual holiday,” he said. “It doesn’t commemorate anybody’s birthday or any special battle or anything. It’s just a way of expressing our Thanksgiving to God for the blessings that he gives to us. And what we get out of it is we are serving people.”

Petra Tafolla helped interpret for Spanish-speaking families. For her, volunteering is a “blessing.”

“That’s why I like service,” Tafolla said. “To make others happy.”

Pete O’Cain: 664-7152

ocain@wenatcheeworld.com or

on Twitter@peterocain