This year's annual Thanksgiving dinner at the Salvation Army in Lockport will feature a pair of special returning guests.
Today, as the Sister Mary Loretta Soup Kitchen prepares to serve to dinner to what's expected to be a crowd of about 400 people, longtime volunteers Jack Rinaldo and Al Sammarco will be doing their part to make sure things go well and everyone is satisfied.
Rinaldo and Sammarco helped organize the annual Thanksgiving dinner at the soup kitchen for 25 years before "retiring" four years ago. They decided to come out of "retirement" when they heard that another volunteer, who took over a large chunk of their meal preparation duties, was experiencing a medical situation in his family and would not be able to participate.
Throughout the day today, they will be helping provide visitors with turkey, green beans, stuffing, mashed potatoes and, of course, pie for dessert.
Sammarco said that while he and Rinaldo enjoy doing the work, it is the Salvation Army and its volunteers who deserve the recognition.
"This is all about the Salvation Army more than Jack Rinaldo or Al Sammarco," Sammarco said. "They are here every day. We are here only one day a year."
Sammarco and Rinaldo's service to the soup kitchen dates back to the 1980s. Their purpose in volunteering was simple: "to offer a Thanksgiving dinner for the people that go without one."
Sammarco noted that they've gone through many turkeys over the years.
"A lot of birds bit the dust," he said.
For the past few year, BOCES students have done the cooking of the turkeys, which has greatly helped with the preparation of the meals because Sammarco said the cooking of the turkeys, and preparing the stuffing represents about 90 percent of the work involved. Sammarco said the other 10 percent of the work consists of organizing the meal and making sure everything is properly done.
The volunteers just show up on Thanksgiving morning ready to assume the same duty they did last year, Rinaldo said.
"We've had the same volunteers for years. Sometimes we lose one, but we get a couple more. We don't even call. They just show up," Rinaldo said.
Major Jose Santiago from the Lockport Salvation Army thanked the volunteers for their work.
"The volunteers always amaze me and I appreciate their work, their spirit," Santiago said. "I mean, it is their zeal for service. They pick it up again and dust off their aprons and there they are, ready to serve.