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SPIRIT TRIUMPHS FOR MOTHER OF 6
SHE'S NOW FREE OF WELFARE, THOUGH MANY STILL STRUGGLE

Charlene Gendrew had something to be especially thankful for on Thanksgiving that many others in the Buffalo area do not have -- a good job.

Not just a minimum-wage job, but one that pays the City of Tonawanda woman enough to take care of herself and her six children.

Not that it was an easy road. But determined to shake loose from a welfare check, she refused to give up.

It's not an easy road and others find it insurmountable.

Thanksgiving Day, Roy Daniels was driving Gethsemane-Grape Baptist Church's van through the city's streets, looking for anyone who might not be getting a Thanksgiving dinner.

"Down here, we have a lot of people who just feel that they are lost and that there is no hope," he said.

Daniels knows the neighborhood and its street people. But regardless -- be they drug dealers or prostitutes -- all were welcome to jump in the van and be taken back to the church at 55 Grape St., where a turkey dinner was waiting for them.

"We have been sending the vans out for the past several years," said the Rev. Herbert V. Reid, pastor of the church. "The volunteer drivers pay particular attention to the hangouts of young men. We always hope if we can get them here, maybe we can help them find their way to a better life."

But Mr. Reid, Daniels and Sam Barclay, who directs the volunteer cooks in the church kitchen, know that it will never happen without jobs.

And not just any job, but jobs -- as Ms. Gendrew was determined to get -- that will pay a living wage and offer some benefits, particularly health insurance.

Until then, the 1,700 church members support a variety of programs for their neighbors who need help.

"We do it on our own," Barclay emphasized. "The Food Bank has offered us food, but our members do the donating because we realize we have been blessed, so we go into our own pockets."

On Tuesday, the church held an open-house Thanksgiving dinner for more than 300 people, and vans were sent out to deliver food to shut-ins.

While making his rounds Thursday, Bailey stopped to deliver food to someone who had called for help.

"That's what the Lord meant for us to do," Barclay said. "If it ever happens that someone comes in here for food and we don't have any in the kitchen, I just go across the street. That's where I live, and I bring back something from my refrigerator."

Ms. Gendrew knows how rough it can be out there on your own.

She suffered through two alcoholic and abusive husbands, she said, and turned to welfare for help.

"Although I hated it, I had to depend on welfare for help," Ms. Gendrew said. "I had six kids to feed, but I knew that somehow I was going to get out from under welfare."

Finding solid work was tough. She worked at "temporary jobs, a couple of factory jobs, and none of them paid enough to take care of us," she said. "Then, about a year ago, I got a factory job that was pretty good, but last March, there was a big layoff. . . . How do you take care of a family like mine on a $90-a-week unemployment check."

But fate intervened.

"A flier came in the mail from the Clarkson Center," Ms. Gendrew said, "and it said they would help you find a job. I didn't have any idea what Clarkson was, but I thought, 'What do I have to lose?' "

"I remember when Charlene first came here," recalled Christina Horbett, a case manager and job developer with Clarkson, which runs a major job-training program for the disadvantaged.

"She was depressed like many others who come here, but it was clear she desperately wanted a job."

Ms. Gendrew recalled that "for four months, I was looking for a job every day, but it worked, and now I am working."

Now, she is working the late shift at Sugar Kake Cookie Inc. in the City of Tonawanda, near her home.

Mrs. Gendrew cares for her younger children during the day, and her oldest daughter, a high school senior, takes over in the evening.

"It's just great," Ms. Gendrew beamed. "I am making $8 an hour with benefits, and pretty soon, I am getting a raise to almost $9, and next June, it will be $9.50.

"It's a great Thanksgiving," the 38-year-old mother declared. "I have my children, and we are not on welfare.

"I am truly grateful."

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