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VOLUNTEERS SERVE UP HOLIDAY FOR THE NEEDY

Just like those who are more fortunate, poor and working poor families will go home today for Thanksgiving dinner.

But home for some of these people will be soup kitchens, such as Response to Love. Welcoming them with open arms will be Sister Johnice and an army of volunteers.

Hundreds of other poor and working poor families will be in their own homes, and all should have a turkey on the table, thanks to an overwhelming response that the Food Bank of Western New York received after appealing to the community.

"We had more than enough to send to all the pantries who help these thousands of families," said Clem Eckert, executive director of the Food Bank.

In turn, soup kitchens like Response to Love were able to meet needs.

"For our people who depend on us to get through each month, our Thanksgiving dinner is not just about getting a free meal," Sister Johnice said as 90 turkeys were being carved and all the trimmings were being prepared for the 600 to 700 expected for dinner today.

"This is coming home for the holiday and being with friends who have become family because they share the same struggles," she said. "It is not being alone, and it is knowing that someone cares."

Jack Wagner was among the turkey carvers in the Response to Love kitchen, located in the former elementary school at St. Adalbert's Catholic Church at 130 Kosciusko St.

He recalled the late Monsignor Joseph Bialek who, with Sister Johnice, founded the soup kitchen several years ago.

Wagner, senior vice president and general manager of Calspan Operations, has been carving turkeys at the soup kitchen for about nine years.

"It's ironic," he mused. "Not that we did not love the monsignor, but since his death, each year we are realizing the contributions he made to the East Side of Buffalo. He was a humble man who never wanted credit for what he did but he was like Sister Johnice. He cared."

Richard Schneider, who is in the insurance business, has been with the kitchen almost from the beginning.

"About 15 years," he said as he sliced a turkey breast. "You do something like this because you have a love for people, especially poor people."

The same refrain is heard from volunteers at the several other soup kitchens. Most are serving turkey before they go home to their own turkey dinners.

They, like the fifth-graders from Casey Middle School in Amherst, will enjoy their dinner knowing they helped someone else.

"That was something to see," Eckert said. "Those little kids came in with a collection they had taken up. It was enough to buy 15 more turkeys for our pantries."

"Better yet," he added, "was seeing little kids who cared about kids who did not have what they do."

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