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Response to Love prepares 30th annual Thanksgiving dinner for needy

Dozens of people began eating shortly after the doors of St. Adalbert Church, in the Broadway-Fillmore neighborhood, opened at 10 a.m.

The occasion was the Response to Love’s 30th annual Thanksgiving meal.

“There will be 200 to 300 people eating here, and it’s a gift for us because we really want to be available for people,” said Sister Mary Johnice, a Felician nun who was beaming while cradling 1-month-old Demaryius in her arms as the baby’s mother ate.

“There are people from the suburbs, and people from the city who all wanted to be here,” she said. “It’s a joyful, joyful day.”

The food was dished up by 10 volunteers, assembly-line style. “And it’s served with l-o-v-e,” said meterologist Kevin O’Connell, standing in the middle of the group.

A second serving area was set up for children and people wanting seconds, while Skittles the Clown entertained kids at the other end of the room. Nearby was a table with servings of pumpkin and apple pie, and homemade holiday cookies baked by Elaine O’Connell of Elma.

White and chocolate milk, unused at Buffalo schools because of the snow days, also was served.

The plentiful food and friendly cheer of the volunteers were received appreciatively by many of the folks present.

“This was a beautiful occasion for Thanksgiving. Everything was really excellent,” Frank Szczublewski said after finishing his seconds.

Victoria Gamblin said her meal – turkey with gravy, stuffing, corn, sweet potatoes and a roll – looked delicious, as a server passing by offered a helping of cranberry sauce.

“It’s just a wonderful thing they do – oh yeah, wonderful, wonderful,” Gamblin said.

Some 75 volunteers were on hand. On Wednesday, 35 volunteers helped get things ready, including men from the Buffalo Club, who carved the turkeys.

Volunteers started calling to offer help in September, Sister Johnice said.

“I’m here to give back, and to be thankful for what you have and to give to others,” Jane Pelosi said. “The people who are coming in are beyond grateful for what we do.”

Ariella Sharf began volunteering at Response to Love Center seven years ago for a service project at Williamsville East High School. Now 21 and attending Northeastern University, Sharf has continued to return and brought her parents and two siblings, too.

“I feel fulfilled after I can make someone else’s day by giving them a plate of food,” Sharf said.

Corporate executives also took part. Bill Giesel, CEO of Rich Products, hovered over the tables with a pastry bag containing his company’s On Top Whipped Topping, looking to squeeze some onto people’s pies.

“My wife and I have done this for a number of years, and we just find it’s a great opportunity to be part of the total community we live in,” Giesel said.

Tom Calderone, president of VH1, drove from his home in New York City to Buffalo on Monday after reading about the storm’s devastation to help the Western New York Food Bank deliver food in South Buffalo. He also helped the Buffalo Sabres’ turkey drive, and wanted to volunteer on Thanksgiving before heading home.

The SUNY Buffalo State graduate and his wife still own a home here, and he’s a Bills season-ticket holder.

“I’ve used a lot of upper-body strength the last few days,” Calderone joked. “It’s my adopted home city, and I like to give back when I can.”

As people left, they were offered weather-stripping kits from National Fuel, and a bag of household paper products.

Volunteer Ashley Martin, a math professor at Jamestown Community College who was directing traffic, said she was glad to be there.

“It really makes me appreciate what I have,” the Olean resident said. “I just love seeing the look on everybody’s faces, and to see how many people care about them, and how many people are here to help them while giving up their time on Thanksgiving.”