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Serving meals and fellowship for Thanksgiving at St. Augustine Hunger Center

For 50 years, the center has been feeding those living on the edge and attracting an abundance of volunteers.

CLEVELAND — It’s a Cleveland tradition. The St. Augustine Hunger Center serving and delivering thousands of turkey dinners to the poor with the help of an abundance of volunteers.

Eric Milkie, a program director at Catholic Charities of Cleveland, said it expects to serve 15,000 meals across Northeast Ohio, most of them home delivered.

He said the center was expected to serve about 400-500 meals.

RELATED: List: Where you can get a free Thanksgiving meal in Northeast Ohio

The center saw a steady stream of those in need, though fewer than in past years, something in part attributed to the pandemic.

Just before noon, volunteers outnumbered guests. Those helping -- drawn here for different reasons -- but with equal commitment.

“I got saved and sober two years, three months and nine days ago,” said volunteer Marty Palmeria. “Getting to know God, my understanding is he asks us to go help the last, the least, the lost, the sick and suffering and oppressed. That’ that’s what I’m doing.”

Jeff Hercules of Walton Hills served food and talked to guests.

“I tell you, it puts things in perspective for me personally,” he said. “To see how good we got it compared to these people wo don’t’ have much. It makes me feel warm to come down to do what I can to help.”

Jim Franczek was born in Tremont and has returned here for the last 10 years to help.

“It will always be my home,” he said. “There’s still a lot of needy people in the neighborhood. And God bless us all. I lost my sister last Christmas and I’m doing this for her.”

For those in need, fellowship is as important as the meal.

“Joy brings us together,” said a self-described poet who goes by “Don Zero.” “So, this is a joyous time and we appreciate those who provide the food for us. And, also – we provide the hurt, our pain and our suffering -- and it all comes into this building. And without people caring about you, you don’t really have a life. It’s not just family members but also outside family members.”

The hunger center’s work is closely tied to its matriarch, Sister Corita Ambro, now retired, who noted the changing demographics of those seeking help.

“So there has been a big change in it,” she said. “A lot of them are poor. Some of them have homes and that’s beautiful and I’m so glad for that. But there are grandmothers with their grandchildren and there is the homeless themselves but they are beautiful, beautiful people. They brings us joy and they make Thanksgiving worth the while.”

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