Our Town Editor
4:21 PM EST, November 21, 2012
Wayne McMinn has little remaining from his Social Security check after paying for rent, utilities and other essentials.
Sitting in the crowded St. Vincent De Paul Family Kitchen last week, McMinn said he is grateful for a daily warm meal.
"It's rough," McMinn conceded. "By the end of the month, people are broke. We have no choice but to come here."
Organizers of free Thanksgiving meals are preparing for an onslaught of families overwhelmed by the struggling economy but wanting to maintain a holiday tradition of turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie.
McMinn believes his Thanksgiving meal will come from the same place he gets lunch the rest of the week: the Johnstown soup kitchen.
"It's really important," he said, looking forward to turkey and all the trimmings. "That's a day of giving thanks."
Since Carmen Saucedo, owner of Bella's Pizzaria in Windber, began offering a free Thanksgiving dinner four years ago, she has seen a steady increase in those partaking in the meal.
She expects to exceed the 300 meals served last Thanksgiving.
"I worry that I'll have to do more, but I'll handle whatever comes," she said.
The need for help is evident daily at the St. Vincent De Paul Family Kitchen, where patronage has risen from about 200 meals a day to nearly 275 in recent months.
Manager Greg Karcher said more and more families with young children have been coming to the soup kitchen.
"Our numbers have been jumping dramatically," Karcher said. "I think there's just hard times for everybody."
The family kitchen will be offering a meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, vegetables, salad and pumpkin pie from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Thanksgiving Day.
Bella's will have a meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin pie and ice cream from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Last year, Saucedo attributed some of the increase to the closing of Nunzio's Restaurant in Richland, which had served a free Thanksgiving meal.
This year, she donations have helped her purchase 200 pounds of turkey, but she's looking to get more.
She said the restaurant delivers meals to the nearby senior citizen towers, as well as preparing pickups for those wanting to take dinner to shut-in neighbors.
"We were wild" last year, she said.
This is the first year Shorty's Italian Smokehouse, 1761 Goucher Street, will be offering a free Thanksgiving meal in the west suburbs.
"With the economy the way it is, everybody's struggling," owner Bob Stephens said. "The whole community's helped us out."
The meal will take place from noon to 4 p.m. at The Grove on Edgehill Drive.
Stephens said he doesn't know exactly what to expect, but believes he will serve between 300 and 350,
"We're going to feed as many people as we can," he said. "We're targeting elderly folks, families who've lost husbands or wives, plus families who go to work every day and still are struggling."
There will be activities for kids, including basketballs, games and coloring books.
"It really is a family oriented event," Stephens said.