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SERVICE GROUPS FEED HUNGER FOR THANKSGIVING CHEER

As in many homes across the nation, Thanksgiving was a time for family in the dining hall of Salvation Army headquarters at 960 Main St.

The 400 diners included the elderly, the poor, the homeless and those who just didn't want to be alone for the holiday.

"We treat people as our guests. Everyone who comes here is treated as part of the family," said Maj. Arthur W. Carlson, the Salvation Army's area coordinator. "People in need of company are still in need. Some people here are elderly, or young families, but the qualifier has nothing to do with poverty. Being home alone is the qualifier.

"When you come here, there's no forms; you don't have to show us your welfare check or rent receipt. If you want to come, you're always welcome here."

Plates were stacked with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green beans, cranberry sauce and a roll on the side. For dessert: pumpkin or apple pie, with a squirt of whipped cream for good measure.

The diners included Harrison Black, 38, currently without a home and thankful for the good food and company.

"I thank God that this place is here," said Black, who has been living in a Salvation Army shelter since losing his job as a maintenance manager when his employer declared bankruptcy six months ago.

"I need help finding employment," he said. "I'm willing to do anything that's legal. I'm just trying to get my life back together."

Town of Tonawanda resident Michelle Oddo, 17, a senior at Kenmore East High School, was among the volunteers serving food, setting up tables and cleaning up.

She said her family was no stranger to hard times. When one of her parents was laid off seven years ago, her mother was hard-pressed to send her to school with a lunch. "There have been low times, but it's mostly been good," she said. "I can't imagine being homeless right now. It's so cold, I just couldn't imagine it."

The Salvation Army's Thanksgiving feast is a 120-year tradition -- as long as the organization has been a presence in Buffalo.

The more than 70 volunteers included Salvation Army staffers and members of the Buffalo Police and Fire departments.

For some volunteers, the Thanksgiving dinner served as an eye-opener.

"These kids are suburban and lack for nothing," said Randy Gadikian, a scoutmaster who accompanied eight volunteers from Boy Scout Troop 411 in Hamburg. "They come from the land of plenty. This is a good opportunity for them to see life."

The feast, which cost about $8,000, was made possible by the charitable donations of Buffalo residents.

The dinner also was an occasion for camaraderie.

Jacques Peuquet, 76, of Allentown, said the annual dinner lets him link up with friends.

"We've made a lot of friends here," said Peuquet, who was dining with Frances Rafanowicz. "Friends are important -- especially when you start getting older and everybody dies off."

The Salvation Army was one of several venues opening their doors to those in need on Thanksgiving Day.

Dinner also was served in the Monsignor Donovan Center of St. Andrew's Catholic Church in the Town of Tonawanda.

The City Mission on East Tupper Street served 2,000 Thanksgiving dinners.

Staffers of the Veterans Affairs Western New York Healthcare System also joined the communitywide effort, serving about 150 dinners to the homeless, needy veterans and their families.

e-mail: vthomas@buffnews.com

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