Clevelanders respond to call for donations to help St. Augustine feed thousands

CLEVELAND-- Providing Thanksgiving dinner for the less fortunate, has been a tradition at St. Augustine Church for the past 45 years.

Sister Corita Ambro has been the driving force behind the holiday feast at the church’s hunger center on West 14th Street in Cleveland’s Tremont neighborhood.

Sister Corita said she anticipated that donations to support this year's Thanksgiving dinner would be down because many donors had already given so much to the victims of natural disasters in the U.S. and around the world. But she said when the word got out that St. Augustine was struggling to meet the needs of the underprivileged, Clevelanders opened their hearts and their pocket books.

"People in Cleveland are great supporters of everything and they were supporting all of these other places too. So it's going to be down, but we will manage and we will make it because God is with us all the time," Sister Corita said.

Sister Corita said the key to the charitable tradition is a small army of dedicated volunteers.

Denise Stallworth was in the hospital recovering from throat surgery when she heard about the need for additional volunteers at St. Augustine and she answered the call.

“Just knowing that we're blessing them, to let them know that there's always someone there for them and to never give up," Stallworth said.

Longtime volunteer Wilbur Hayes said St. Augustine and Sister Corita were there for him in his time of need many years ago, and he is simply giving back.

"I'm so gratified that I'm able to be here to help, to assist these people. Because, I mean, to see the smiles, the looks on their faces when they come in and they got a nice meal, and the atmosphere, everything, everything is just lovely," Hayes said.

The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland said, in all, St. Augustine serves Thanksgiving dinner to more than 21,000 people at shelters and hunger centers across Greater Cleveland, and delivering dinner to the homebound.

Anita Rice has seen the need for the services provided by St. Augustine grow in her 20 years as a volunteer. She said she keeps coming back because she believes the gift is in the giving.

"It's a total overwhelming feeling like it's a surprise birthday party or something like that. It's just all bubbly inside, because to see people that you can help, just giving and serving is what I'm all about.”

For some Cleveland families, serving at St. Augustine is a tradition that is passed from generation to generation. John Schriner  spent the day preparing and serving dinner with his wife and their two children.

"It’s just what my family instilled in me, as to giving back to the community and appreciating what we have and helping others who don't have it," Schriner said.