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Serving up a hot meal and respect

In addition to a hot meal, about 200 people were treated to a warm reception on a cold Christmas morning in St. Adalbert's Response to Love Center.

It is an annual rite at the East Side oasis, which daily tends to the needs of the less fortunate, while also offering those who are better off an opportunity to give back.

"We do this every day, but what we do is enhance it for the holiday, because this is a family place," said Sister Mary Johnice Rzadkiewicz, the center's longtime executive director.

"What we want the people to experience is the joy of celebrating together as family, and this East Side community is our family," Sister Johnice added.

Michael Gilhooly was among the 80 volunteers Saturday who helped serve the meals, which consisted of chicken Kiev, mashed potatoes and a vegetable, along with cheesecake for dessert. Gilhooly, the webmaster for St. Adalbert's Response to Love Center for five years, lives not far from the center. As much as the center fills the stomachs of those in need, Gilhooly said, volunteering at the center fulfills a desire in him to be of service.

The Response to Love Center, he said, "is not just a relief agency."

"It's spiritual relief, not only for the volunteers who come here because, initially, I needed something, and it wasn't food, and it wasn't shelter," Gilhooly said before preparing to spend the rest of the day Saturday with his own large extended family.

"I needed to give. This place allows me to do that and, at the end of the day, it's an amazing feeling of satisfaction," he added.

Other volunteers traveled from Eden, Holland and West Falls.

"Many are coming because they want to show [their own] children what it is about giving. Christmas is a season of giving," Sister Johnice said.

The Buffalo Renaissance Club provided the meals, and Rich Products provided dessert. Others donated homemade cookies, while Upstate New York donated the beverage juices.

"So it's a real community giving," Sister Johnice said.

Toys also were distributed to the children, who also received winter gloves and hats, and personal-care packages containing toiletries that were donated by Uniland and local schoolchildren.

"We've taught people to care about one another through our example, and that's kind of like the domino effect in the neighborhood," Sister Johnice said.

"By no means do I want this to be a place that's just a handout. We're teaching self-sufficiency [and] responsibility," she added. "I do run a tight ship, because I value the donations that come from people. There can be abuse, but we really try to teach people to respect the donations that come."