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Nonprofits feed the hungry on Thanksgiving while keeping an eye on new COVID surge

A local Salvation Army officer describes COVID pandemic as 'the most challenging time for anyone we’ve served over the last year and a half.'

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Right after noon the tables in the dining room of the Salvation Army location on Buffalo’s Main Street began filling up. There were families with young children and gatherings of older men, all with plates of turkey, stuffing, mash potatoes and corn piled on them.

“The Salvation Army has been serving this very traditional Thanksgiving meal for many, many decades We'll probably serve 150 to 200 meals altogether today," Major Lock said. 

While the meal and the role the Salvation Army takes serving it has largely remained the same, the circumstances have changed.

“This has been, I believe, the toughest, most challenging time for anyone we’ve served over the last year and a half and the needs people are experiencing are like none other before,” Lock said.

The “challenging time” Lock refers to is COVID. The pandemic has placed the Buffalo area economy on a rollercoaster. Unemployment, which shot up in 2020, has almost returned to pre-pandemic levels. But household costs have risen. The national Consumer Price Index has gone up 6.7% since January of 2020.

Poverty has been a persistent problem in Buffalo and that remains true. The U.S. Census Bureau estimates 30.1% of city residents live in poverty. For a family of three, that means living on $21,000 of less to pay rent and put food on the table for an entire year.

It is those in poverty the Salvation Army and other charities see most often at events like Thursday's Thanksgiving meal.      

Volunteering at the Salvation Army event on Thursday was 21-year-old Samantha Fischer and her family.

“I’m here with my family. My brother, my sister and my parents,” Fischer said.

It’s something of a family tradition for the Orchard Park family to put off their Thanksgiving meal to serve others. Fischer says it’s a rewarding experience.

“Especially after everything with COVID-19. I think we just should be grateful for what we have and that we’ve gotten through it so far. We’re still getting through it now and we should just be thankful, especially on Thanksgiving,” Fischer said.