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'Spirit of St. Louis' helps groups provide Thanksgiving fare in tough times

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: November 19, 2008 - Those providing meals and Thanksgiving fixings to people in need say that they will have many more mouths to feed this year. But they're hopeful that there will be plenty of turkey, stuffing and other holiday goodies to go around. 

Orgnizations like Guardian Angel Settlement Association, the Salvation Army and Operation Food Search expect hundreds more people to seek help. They've already seen it. The downturn in the economy, job losses, higher fuel and food prices are squeezing more people than in years past.

"The numbers are enormous," said William Becker, spokesman for the Salvation Army.

The Salvation Army, which provides food assistance and meals for the upcoming holiday, had 96,000 requests for food before the end of August. Operation Food Search, which works with 300 local food pantries, has seen its numbers rise 10 to 30 percent.

"It's very difficult," said Sunny Schaefer, executive director of Operation Food Search. "We're trying to stretch things as far as we can."

Operation Food Search serves 15 Missouri counties as well as 15 in Illinois. Demand for food has been rising in both rural and urban areas, she said.

Local groups are still looking for cash and food donations, Schaefer said. Operation Food Search has appealed to 900 local food providers for donations to meet not only the demand at Thanksgiving but for the rest of the year.

The Salvation Army, which serves Thanksgiving meals throughout the metro area, is gearing up for its annual donation campaign. It has been able to meet this year's demands for food and other services so far.

Becker said the group believes it will be able to meet its goals to finance next year's aid budget as well.

"If, for some reason, that didn't happen, we'd have some problems," Becker said.

To meet the rising demand, the groups have turned to their donors and, in some cases, to the volunteers who have been with them for years.

"There's a big spirit of volunteerism here in St. Louis," said the Rev. Edward Murphy, who heads the Guardian Angel Settlement Association in St. Louis, "especially around Thanksgiving. It's just the spirit of St. Louis."

For years, Murphy said, volunteers have made Thanksgiving dinner possible for nearly 700 people who come to the Hosea House-sponsored dinner, now held at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church in LaSalle Park. Hosea House is run by Guardian Angel.

Local hospitals offer cooking services, fathers and sons from St. Louis University High School carve and other volunteers take care of the rest. A single family has been providing desserts for the diners and for those receiving home-delivered meals every year, Murphy said.

This year, he expects to feed at least 1,000 people at the meal and serve an additional 200 meals for in-home eating.

"It's a very big operation," Murphy said, "but it's very smooth."

How to help

Operation Food Search, 314-726-5355 

The Salvation Army, 314-646-3000 

Guardian Angel Settlement Association, 314-231-3188

Amelia Flood is a freelance writer in St. Louis.