Salvation Army diners, volunteers, give thanks

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Catherine W. Idzerda
Thursday, November 23, 2017

JANESVILLE—While you were squabbling with your in-laws, I was dining on hope.

While you were in a pitched battle with Cousin Ed about what's going on in Washington, I was getting the annual hug from the Salvation Army’s Maj. Ruth Fay.

And while you were sitting in some relative’s living room, wondering when you could say goodbye—without seeming too eager—and flee back to your own home, I was watching a community come together at the Salvation Army’s annual Thanksgiving dinner.

It’s the same assignment every Thanksgiving, but it never gets old.

This year, about 200 volunteers served around 350 people. Some went to the Salvation Army’s headquarters at 514 Sutherland Ave., Janesville. Others took advantage of home delivery.

At times it seemed like the volunteers outnumbered the diners. Volunteers were everywhere carrying out a slew of tasks: welcoming people; offering punch and appetizers; escorting people to their tables; taking orders; cooking; serving the main course, drinks and desserts; cleaning up; and wishing everyone a happy Thanksgiving.

And everyone is thankful.

Volunteer Steven Salzman was “thankful to still be alive because of great cancer surgeons.” He has been healthy for eight years, and that makes him especially thankful to be able to help out.

His spouse, Dorothy Salzman, said she was grateful for her freedoms, her health and all of the ordinary things people sometimes take for granted such warm coats and warm homes.

Jameson Graham, 8, and his mother, Kelly North, volunteered at the pie cart. Jameson ran around taking pie orders while his mother manned the container of whipped cream.

“I’m thankful for my school, my friends and my family,” Jameson said.

He attends Milton West.

“I have good friends there, and we have good fundraisers,” Jameson said.

Each class takes care of a school family in need during the holiday season, his mother explained.

Angel Moore, who volunteers at the Salvation Army during the week, was happy to "come together over lunch." 

Moore enjoys her volunteer work.

“I just like the people. I’m a people person,” Moore said.

Moore’s daughter, Leah Moore, 8, giggled and said her mom “got her personality from me.”

When asked what she was thankful for, Leah said “Mostly everything.”

“If people are smiling, that just makes me happy,” Leah said, beaming a 1,000-watt smile.

Diner Mary Kutka was thankful for her family, her friends, her health and the Salvation Army.

She has been through some difficult times and is getting back on her feet. Kutka has found that receiving is more difficult than giving.

We had a brief conversation about the challenges of getting restarted in life and about how even small setbacks can crush one’s spirits. We agreed that asking for and receiving help was difficult.

“My kids used to bring friends over to our house that had no place to go,” Kutka said wistfully.

And then this person, a stranger to me until I met her at the dinner, leaned over and gave me a hug.

That, right there, might be the quality that makes the Salvation Army's Thanksgiving dinner so hopeful and joyous.

Gazette photographer Angela Major described it as a place without condescension, where people aren’t getting a handout but a dinner.

“I love the vibe there,” she said.

So do I, but I'd be hard pressed to define it.

I asked Fay about why the act of giving and receiving felt so different at the annual meal. 

"It is difficult for people to be on the receiving end of help," Fay said. "That's why we try to make it like family."

A beaming 8-year-old girl, another 8-year-old boy delivering pie, a kitchen full of cooks and good food, and a setting where everyone is thankful for something—that might be the best family ever.

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