Across the city, Thanksgiving Day activities went on without a hitch. Thursday morning, thousands ventured out to participate in the Turkey Trot, a run/walk that benefits the Kidney Foundation and the Grateful Gobbler, a 3-mile walk to raise money for the Chattanooga Regional Homeless Coalition. Hundreds more took part in the first-ever Stuffing Strut 5k at Chester Frost Park, a fundraiser for needy families in North Hamilton County.
If you can't be home for the holidays, there may be no better place than the Ronald McDonald House.
And to families with hospitalized children at Erlanger hospital, the house across the street has become a second home.
Kate Tamashevich's family first stayed here 10 years ago. She was a 16-year-old foreign exchange student at the Chattanooga Center for Creative Arts when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Tamashevich's mother and father came from their native Belarus to stay at the Ronald McDonald House while she underwent six months of cancer treatment at the hospital.
Even now, 10 years after beating her cancer, she and her family are still coming to the house to celebrate holidays. Her parents now live in Hixson, while she attends Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta. But the Ronald McDonald House is home, so they spend every turkey day volunteering here.
"This is my family. The whole place is family," Tamaschevich said as volunteers served house guests and family members a multicourse meal. "Everybody who comes to the house is absolutely welcome."
Since their first Thanksgiving here a decade ago, the family has embraced American traditions like sharing a big Thanksgiving meal.
"As an immigrant, you kind of feel like a pilgrim," she said. "We try to embrace the whole American lifestyle. It's our second home."
On Thursday, the Ronald McDonald House was at full capacity, with 26 families. More than half the families staying at any given time are there because their infants are being treated in the neonatal intensive care unit.
Devon Stone, who gave birth to a premature baby boy on Monday, said she was saddened to spend the holiday away from their Atlanta-area home. But she said the staff and volunteers at the house had made the experience as much like home as possible.
She was discharged Tuesday, but there's no telling when doctors will release her son, Syler, who was born six weeks early.
"It's sad and disheartening. But it's also amazing what they've done for us," she said. "I'm thankful. It could be way worse."
Executive director Jane Kaylor has lived at the house since it opened in 1990 and has celebrated all but one Thanksgiving there. She said they work year-round to make the place feel comfortable and welcoming, but especially so during holidays.
"You always want to be with your family," she said. "But we try to make it as much like home as possible."
Contact staff writer Kevin Hardy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6249.
Kevin rejoined the Times Free Press in August 2011 as the Southeast Tennessee K-12 education reporter. He worked as an intern in 2009, covering the communities of Signal Mountain, Red Bank, Collegedale and Lookout Mountain, Tenn. A native Kansan, Kevin graduated with bachelor's degrees in journalism and sociology from the University of Kansas. After graduating, he worked as an education reporter in Hutchinson, Kan., for a year before coming back to Chattanooga. Honors include a ...