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Housing manager goes the extra mile

Marcia Massaro may be the public housing manager at Anthony Spallino Towers for the Niagara Falls Housing Authority, but to her residents she's the chief chef in charge on Thanksgiving Day.

For the past eight years, Massaro, 49, and her family -- along with others, mostly NFHA employees -- have been preparing a full Thanksgiving dinner for the Spallino low-income, elderly or handicapped residents who either cannot leave the building or have nowhere else to go for the holiday. The meal includes turkey, gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, relish plates, rolls and more.

Massaro, a LaSalle Senior High School graduate and an accounting graduate of Niagara County Community College, recently talked with Niagara Weekend about her job and how she ended up on kitchen duty for her favorite holiday.

How long have you worked for the NFHA and what are your responsibilities?

I've been with the NFHA for 11 years. I've been the public housing manager at Anthony Spallino Towers for the last 10 years. I oversee the 182 apartments there. I oversee tenants, make sure rents are collected, make sure any maintenance problems tenants have are taken care of, as well as any social problems. . . . Last January, I also became the housing manager at Henry E. Wrobel Towers, which has 250 apartments.

Is Thanksgiving a special holiday for you?

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. It always has been. It's the only holiday I don't have to do anything for except eat. When I was a kid, it was just a time to eat this great turkey dinner with cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, rolls and all this other food. It always used to be like that. Even when our four kids were young we used to go to my parents house for Thanksgiving dinner or to my husband's parent's home.

What started to change all that for you?

The first year I was here, I found out a lot of my tenants spent Thanksgiving alone.

How did that come about?

The Health Association of Niagara County employees who worked with the tenants made up a list of people who weren't going anywhere for Thanksgiving, so the Housing Authority would purchase turkey dinners for them. They were for people who either don't have families, can't go out for some physical reason or have families who aren't in town. There are a lot of different reasons. So I asked someone, "What do they do? Do they all sit together and eat?" I was told they just had the dinners taken to their apartments. That' what they used to do.

How did you react?

I spoke with my husband [Anthony Massaro, a social worker for the Niagara County Department of Mental Health] about it. I said it was terrible these people had dinner alone on Thanksgiving. I said I might as well put in a microwave turkey dinner in for them, that this was not a special meal for them. I said it would be be nice if we went down there and organized it -- have the dinner delivered and have them get together for a sit-down dinner.

So how did you start making Thanksgiving dinner for everyone?

My husband said, 'Why don't you cook them dinner?' He said he'd help and we did it.

How did it go?

The first time was just a nightmare because I had no idea how much to cook, what to take and I didn't make any mashed potatoes because I figured they had stuffing and sweet potatoes, which I thought would be enough starch. But they all asked about mashed potatoes and let me know they were a necessary part of a Thanksgiving dinner. So after that, I always had mashed potatoes.

How many people do you serve?

Forty-five people signed up for it this year.

Who does all the work besides you and your husband?

My son, Anthony Jr., and my grandson, Corey -- he's 12 -- come and help. They set up long tables in the recreation room so every one can sit down together, and they help serve. A lot of NFHA employees also chip in. They donate the food, everything from butter, fresh yams and deserts to the turkeys. We cooked five turkeys. Kevin Janik [a NFHA maintenance worker] and his wife, Anne, make the mashed potatoes . . . about 30 pounds worth. A lot of the tenants make deserts. We get a variety of deserts like pumpkin and apple pies, bunt cakes and cupcakes.

How much time do you spend organizing, cooking and putting on the meal?

I probably put in about 20 hours. I chopped up the onions and celery and things on Wednesday to make the homemade bread stuffing. Then I got up at about 8 a.m. Thursday and baked three of the turkeys at home and made the gravy. I have two ovens and this year. I went out and brought a turkey roaster. . . . Two of our tenants . . . prepared the other two turkeys. . . . We served at about 3 p.m. and were out of the by 5:30 p.m.

How do you serve the dinner?

I serve it family style, where you have big plates of mashed potatoes, turkey, green beans and other things and they pass them down the table to each other, just like at home, so you get a family feeling. . . . I also like to make enough turkey so they can take some, in sealed bags, back to their apartments to make sandwiches with later on. That's because they eat early, so at 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. they might get hungry.

How do the tenants like it?

I know they look forward to it. Some people came down and asked asked me in October if I was doing it. Some people in the past have even asked me if I was going to do Christmas. I said I couldn't because I host Christmas at my house for my whole family.

Why do you do it?

I like these people. This is a great building and we have great tenants. They're like a big family and I want them to have a nice holiday and be with other people and have some fun. I just want them to feel like they have a family even if their family's not here or they don't have one. I just can't see having somebody sit by themselves on a holiday like that. I really wish I could do Christmas too but I have family obligations.

When do you have your Thanksgiving dinner?

While we're doing all this, my daughters, Angela and Amy, are finishing up making our family Thanksgiving dinner at home. So we eat when we get home, at about 6 p.m. or 6:30 p.m.

What do you get out of it?

It's feels very gratifying at the end of the day on Thanksgiving when I sit down with my husband after we eat our dinner and the kids have gone home and I feel I'm going to fall apart because I'm just exhausted. It just feels nice because I know people really had a good time, and I get a lot of hugs and kisses from the tenants. It's wonderful.

What about you're tenants at Wrobel Towers?

The tenants there get together and make their own Thanksgiving dinner. They did it for the first time last year and it worked out well so they're doing it again this year. They have it all under control.

(Editor's note: Throughout the holiday season, Q&As in Niagara Weekend will focus on those who help the poor and less fortunate in Niagara County).

e-mail: pwestmoore@buffnews.com

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