Most people celebrate Thanksgiving in a home.
But for an estimated 200 to 300 people, home Thursday was the Salvation Army in downtown Buffalo, where 100 cheerful volunteers, including Mayor Byron W. Brown and members of the University at Buffalo men’s basketball team, served heaping portions of turkey with all the fixin’s to brighten the day.
“This serves a public need, and I’m just thankful it’s here because I could be in a worse situation, and a lot of other people, too. It’s a blessing to have this place here,” said Richard Jazewski, a Vietnam-era Air Force veteran, who noted that although he has been homeless, he isn’t currently.
Carlos Garcia said he looked forward to having Thanksgiving at the Salvation Army. “It’s beautiful. People are always good to us here,” Garcia said.
The mayor, wearing plastic apron and gloves, was first in the serving line, using tongs to place slices of turkey onto a plate to which his wife, Michelle, added a scoop of mashed potatoes. Others in the assembly line added stuffing, green beans, and a roll and butter, while someone else ladled gravy. Pumpkin pie was on the dessert menu.
The mayor, who has made going to the Salvation Army an annual Thanksgiving tradition, praised the “many dedicated volunteers that help every year.”
“I think it’s important for all citizens to try to give something back to the community they live in, to show their thanks and reach a hand out to help a member of the community,” Brown said.
Their efforts were appreciated by Florence Guarino, a retired General Motors employee, who was enjoying a plate of food.
“Thank God we have these places to feed the homeless and the unfortunate people, and people that like to share and care with each other,” she said.
Deborah Thomas, who is living in the facility’s homeless shelter with daughter Ebony Thomas and 11-month-old grandchild Emani Minggie, was also thankful. Her boyfriend, Angel Valentine, said he had been homeless but had recently found a place to live.
“I really love the Salvation Army. They do a lot for you, and they really care,” said Thomas, adding that she has stayed in other city shelters but considers this one the best.
The holiday meal was bittersweet for Jose Manuel Lugo, of the Town of Tonawanda, who was there without his mother, who died two months ago.
“I have to be here to hear the piano, and because of the atmosphere. My mom used to enjoy it. I’m sad, but I’m happy to have this here, and I pretend my mother is still with me,” Lugo said. “It makes me really good. It brings tears to my eyes, but I feel better.”
Maj. Thomas Applin, executive director for the Salvation Army in Buffalo, said times are hard for many: Applications for Christmas toys are up, and cuts to food stamps will soon be felt, with more proposed.
He said there is a lot of need – and much of it is hidden in plain sight.
“I know there is sometimes a stigma about people receiving government benefits, but the reality is that for those who are getting them it’s still tough to manage and stretch those food dollars so you can keep feeding your family. It’s tough to live on that if that’s all you have,” Applin said.
“We see a lot of people who still are struggling, who want to get jobs and want to get back into working regularly, and we’re just not there yet. We’re not there, anywhere.”