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Published: Friday, 11/23/2007

Kids, teens play big role in serving free Thanksgiving meals

BY MIKE SIGOV
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Kayla Lindsey, 17, and her grandmother Gwendolyn Ellis fill plates at Warren A.M.E. Church on Collingwood Boulevard. About 20 volunteers, about half of them teenagers and children under age 12, cooked and served the holiday dinners. Kayla Lindsey, 17, and her grandmother Gwendolyn Ellis fill plates at Warren A.M.E. Church on Collingwood Boulevard. About 20 volunteers, about half of them teenagers and children under age 12, cooked and served the holiday dinners.
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A number of young people pitched in yesterday to help older volunteers serve free Thanksgiving meals at Toledo food pantries and other community organizations to more people than in the past.

The Rev. Susan Koleman, the presiding pastor of the Thomas Temple Churches of God in Christ, said about 50 people were served dinner in just the first hour at her church at 2140 Ashland Ave.

About 150 were expected.

Two of the 10 volunteers were there for the first time, she said.

Nick Harris, 16, a sophomore at Toledo Early College High School, and Chris Castro, 16, a sophomore at St. Francis de Sales High School, who are neighbors and friends, were helping clean up.

I wanted to help people in my community because people need help, Nick said. If you were in the same situation in the need of food, you d want someone to help you.

Chris said he joined his friend because helping others makes him feel as if he s making a bit of a difference.

Pastor Koleman said the teenagers help was appreciated.

There is more need in volunteers than ever, but we are are blessed each year to never run out of them, she said. I ve never seen so many homeless people, and especially so many homeless people with children.

It is devastating to see this, the pastor said.

At Warren A.M.E. Church, 915 Collingwood Blvd., about 20 volunteers about half of them teenagers or children under 12 years old cooked and served holiday dinners.

Nathan Miller gives a piggy-back ride to Erica Shope 4 after dinner at Good Samaritan Outreach. Nathan Miller gives a piggy-back ride to Erica Shope 4 after dinner at Good Samaritan Outreach.
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We try to teach children that it makes you happy to serve others who are less fortunate and to teach [the children] that there are people who are less fortunate than they are, and to teach them to share, said Gwendolyn Ellis, a retired Toledo Public Schools teacher who is the director of Christian education at the church.

Last Thanksgiving, about 120 dinners were served at the church. This year, about 200 people were expected, she said.

Gary Stewart, 9, a fourth-grader at the new Elmhurst Elementary School, was pouring punch into cups.

Playing basketball is my favorite thing to do, he said. [But] I am here to help my family [serve food]. I volunteered because this is the best thing I could do.

Because 200 to 300 people were expected at the Good Samaritan Outreach Center, 1108 Broadway, as opposed to the 150 last year, Maria Thompson, 63, of Toledo, had most of her family helping her in the center s kitchen.

She has three children, eight grandchildren, and a great-granddaughter, Mrs. Thompson said.

What we decided to do is to have our Thanksgiving here with the rest of the people, and then we ll get together at my home and have our dessert there, said Mrs. Thompson, who regularly volunteers to cook and serve meals at the center.

Shawna Mays, 35, Mrs. Thompson s daughter, was helping her mother cook and serve the dinners.

Mrs. Mays, a Toledo hairdresser, had her sons with her.

Jacob, 16, was lifting the heavier pans; Jeremiah, 11, was putting whipped cream on pumpkin pies. Her youngest son, William, who is almost 3, was just hanging around and playing, unfazed by the presence of about three dozen diners.

They were serving turkey with all the trimmings.

It s the best Thanksgiving we ve ever had, Mrs. Mays said.

John Kubancik, 53, of Toledo, a supervising volunteer, said 15 volunteers were busy yesterday cooking and serving meals at the outreach center.

That was five more than on Thanksgiving last year because more children volunteers were there to help, he said.

Their help was very much appreciated, said Ivy Ropp, 48, of Toledo, a volunteer at the center who said that there had been a time when she was there for food.

This place has helped a lot by just providing [free] food, Ms. Ropp said.

A volunteer who identified himself only as Rocky O agreed.

This place has saved me from drugs and alcohol, and I am very grateful for this place, Mr. O, 43, said. It keeps me from the streets and keeps me busy. I may not work, but at least I am here doing something positive.

He has volunteered at the outreach center on and off for the last 15 years.

The need now is more than I ve ever seen in all these years, he said as more diners arrived.

Contact Mike Sigov at:sigov@theblade.comor 419-724-6074.



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