While the Soldier Hospitality House is dedicated year-round to helping soldiers and their families, the house directors take extra care on holidays to ensure no one has to be alone.
“On family holidays, I don’t want anybody to be alone,” said Elizabeth May, who, with her husband Chris, took over as directors of the house last year. This will be their second Thanksgiving offering free food and fellowship.
Run by the evangelical mission agency Cadence International, the hospitality house is nestled on about 16 acres of land in south Killeen and is a homelike environment where soldiers can go on weekends to relax, make friends or just get away from the barracks. Families are also welcome and a new playground outside is available for children.
With their average Sunday lunch crowd of about 70 people, the couple said they are expecting about 120 people to join them for turkey this Thanksgiving.
But it’s about more than just a free meal, said Chris May. It’s about the family environment and the fellowship that just can’t be re-created in a restaurant, dining facility or alone with a microwaved meal.
For the many young couples who attend weekend events, such as Bible study or Friday game night, it’s also a way to get a home-cooked meal, without preparing a whole turkey for just two people.
“I enjoy being able to communicate with other soldiers and families and making friends here,” said Sarah Rench.
She found the hospitality house just after arriving at Fort Hood in September with her husband, Spc. Josh Rench.
Their on-post housing wasn’t ready and they needed somewhere to stay.
“We were staying in a hotel with no one else around. She was able to be here all day with someone else to talk to,” said Josh Rench, of 1st Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division.
The couple was able to stay in the house nearly two weeks and was actually sad to leave for their own home, Sarah Rench said.
“Since it’s Christian-based, you only get positive influences and interactions here,” she said.
They plan to attend Thanksgiving at the house and have invited friends along.
“We want them to invite people and for people not part of the normal group to come out,” said Chris May. “They are much more likely to come on a holiday than during the regular time.”
Sgt. 1st Class Tony Durham, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, is a geographic bachelor taking advantage of the hospitality house’s RV hookups and described the house as his “home at home.”
“For me, it’s about being able to stay here and have a place to go when my family is not near and have another family to spend time with,” he said.
At Thanksgiving, he said, while the meal is nice, it’s not center stage.
“The emphasis here is about hanging out with people,” he said.
“Any soup kitchen can hand out a free meal and set you on your way. This place is more about meeting people and making friends.”