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Food, gratitude and good cheer were in abundance at the Salvation Army's Christmas dinner Saturday afternoon.

The smell of baked ham and sweet potatoes pleasantly mingled in the air with choruses of "Jingle Bells" sung by musicians who had volunteered to provide live entertainment to some 340 people.

Other volunteers, approximately 85, weaved their way through the crowded Main Street dining room to fill and refill the plates of people who might otherwise go without a Christmas dinner.

Among the youngest of the volunteers were 8-year-old Jessica Dispenza and her 10-year-old sister, Nicole, who both postponed opening their Christmas presents to rise early and help prepare and serve the meal.

"We came here to give to others," Jessica said, adding that she was looking forward to going home and opening her gifts.

Nicole shared the same sentiments.

Melissa Dispenza, their mother, beamed with pride.

"I see their tender little hearts. They couldn't wait to get here. They kept asking when are we going. They had a real hunger to help," Dispenza said.

Their help was appreciated.

"The meal was simply delicious, and I'm in love with the Salvation Army because they are a caring group for those less fortunate and in need," said Chaddie Salas, as she finished eating.

Mary Alice Ziminski grabbed Salvation Army Maj. Art W. Carlson's hand and said, "I want to shake your hand and thank you for the wonderful dinner. God bless you, and Merry Christmas to everybody!"

Julio Valenti walked away from his dinner stuffed.

"Everything was very excellent, and there was enough to eat," Valenti said, rubbing his stomach.

Throughout the meal, holiday songs were performed by Linda Greenan, a University at Buffalo student, and Robert Insana, a musician and actor who played the guitar.

Meanwhile, over at the City Mission on East Tupper Street Saturday morning, more than 200 volunteers gathered to cook and package some 1,300 holiday meals that were being delivered later in the day to needy Western New Yorkers.

And some people volunteered time to visit some of the 638 residents of the Erie County Home on Walden Avenue in Alden.

About 120 of the residents have no family, according to Lauren Kennuth, director of volunteers for the county-run facility. The annual Christmas Day visit took place from 1 to 4:30 p.m.

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