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Serving a need on Thanksgiving

NIAGARA FALLS -- Fifty hams and turkeys, 100 pounds of white potatoes and 200 pounds of sweet potatoes. Forty pounds of macaroni, 40 pounds of shredded sharp cheddar cheese and six cases of mayonnaise.

Ten cases of turkey gravy, 500 dinner rolls and 500 eggs. Twenty-four bags of salad mix, 2,000 foam cups, 2,400 napkins and 500 take-out containers.

And you thought you had to pull together a lot for Thanksgiving dinner.

The Lord's Day Dinner is a giant undertaking and will come together Thursday in LaSalle Griffon Post 917, Veterans of Foreign Wars, thanks to a city couple who has known hard times, and a contingent of other volunteers.

"People always question our sanity about why we do it, and it's simple: The need's there," said Matthew Davis, who, along with his wife, Yvonne, has been preparing Thanksgiving and Christmas meals for the city's needy for 22 years.

They expect to serve as many as 500 meals this Thanksgiving Day.

Most will be served in the VFW post, but homebound senior citizens and disabled residents can call the Davis home, 284-6973, by Tuesday if they would like their dinners delivered.

The Lord's Day Dinner team often gets help from about 45 to 50 volunteers on Thanksgiving Day.

The Davises, members of Morningstar Church of God in Christ Church, sent out about 100 letters asking for help with the dinners. They will gladly accept food, supplies and monetary donations for their holiday meals.

Matthew Davis said he's still looking for volunteers, and even for a good mechanic to fix a donated bus used to distribute some of the meals to people who can't get out to the VFW hall.

The Davises also will accept checks or money orders to the Lord's Day Dinner, 1317 Ashland Ave., Niagara Falls, NY 14301-1215.

Volunteers are serving a city that can use the help. The percentage of those living below the federal poverty level was 19.5 percent in 1999, the latest year this statistic is available, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Statewide, the average was 14.6 percent.

Matthew Davis, 52, knows firsthand how important it is to receive help in times of need. He was out of work in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and he and his family needed some help. That gave rise to the idea of the Lord's Day Dinners.

"When you're on the receiving end, you know where people are," he said.

"The Lord called me to do this because he told me to sacrifice," said his wife, 55. "He gave me the strength and the ability to go out and do it."

No matter how much she might worry about where the meal is coming from, she said, it always comes together.

She learned to cook for the less fortunate from her parents when she was little. "They would cook a feast for our church," she recalled. And she plans to keep serving meals "until the Lord says, 'Yvonne, it's time to stop,' and that means he's taking me on home."

On Thanksgiving morning, Davis said, she's up at 6 or 7 a.m., making coffee for her family, and is usually at the LaSalle Griffon Post by 9 a.m.

Her dinner troops include her husband; their daughter, Tishnell; their sons, Matthew III, Imani and Michael; and many volunteers. They prepare the meals ahead of time in the Davis home in the days before the holiday.

"We cook it as the days go," Yvonne Davis said of the turkeys and hams. "We do five or six of them in one day."

On Thanksgiving morning, the Davises and the rest of the group all meet up at the VFW hall, 2435 Seneca Ave., and heat up the food, which is served to diners between noon and 6 p.m.

The Davis family has a small breakfast before they head off to the VFW post to serve the crowds. They'll swipe a pinch of turkey or a smidgeon of stuffing from time to time throughout the day.

"You've got to taste your product," Matthew Davis said.

He also put out an invitation for those who must work on Thanksgiving to come to the dinner.

"All the local emergency services, the firemen, police all the emergency workers . . . They can stop by and get a meal."


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