July 25, 2014

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Spirit of Thanksgiving present in meal volunteers

LORAIN — Jocey Spitz and Taylor Nedrich could have slept in.

Rhonda Kilian could have gotten a head start on holiday cooking or some other activity connected to the Thanksgiving holiday.

Instead, they were all at the Neighborhood Alliance Haven Center by 7 a.m. Wednesday to help prepare about 420 meals to be delivered to area seniors for whom turkey, dressing and all the trimmings might otherwise be just a bittersweet memory of happier times.

“We put rolls in bags and cut pumpkin pies,” Spitz, 19, said.

A freshman at Virginia Tech, the Avon Lake woman was among 12 to 15 youths and adults who volunteered to bag, box and seal meals for delivery Wednesday.

“We gave our kitchen staff the holiday off, so this group, as well as our administrative staff and management team, are in here today,” Connie Osborn, Neighborhood Alliance’s CEO and president.

Spitz and Nedrich, 18, Spitz’s neighbor and a freshman at the University of Cincinnati, are accustomed to volunteering.

Last summer they worked with babies and tutored young children at Lorain’s City View Childcare Center.

“We loved it,” Nedrich said.

And it was clear the smiling, laughing friends were enjoying themselves again Wednesday in the kitchen of the homeless shelter where they were part of an assembly line that bagged cartons of milk, cartons of sliced pie, cranberries and rolls.

After state funding dried up two years ago, Neighborhood Alliance officials knew they wanted to keep the Thanksgiving meal effort going.

That’s when Alan and Pat Spitzer of the Spitzer auto dealership family came to sponsor the program.

During a brief break in their duties, Rhonda Kilian talked about what motivated her to come out and help.

“I never realized the need in Lorain County,” Kilian said. “That’s why I’m here today.”

Employed by two doctors in the Dearborn, Mich., area as a skin care therapist, Kilian is pursuing her nursing degree in hopes of working in the transplant field.

Last August, Kilian donated two-thirds of her liver to Brad Anderson, a cousin who lives in Lorain.

“God chose me for this role,” Kilian said. “(She and Anderson) were a perfect match. We’re family, and I love him.”

Her recovery has not been easy.

“It was no piece of cake, but I know the second half (of life) is going to be the best half,” she said.

Five trucks equipped with refrigerated compartments for cold foods and warming units for hot, shrink-wrapped turkey-sweet potato-green bean entrees began to make their rounds after 10 a.m. to households throughout Lorain County.

“We delivered them a day early so everyone would have a meal for (Wednesday) and an additional meal for (Thanksgiving),” Osborn said.

Many seniors served by the meals program have an especially tough time coping when the holidays roll around.

“These are people who have no extended family, and no place to go,” according to Osborn, who estimated 80 percent of those receiving meals have no one to care for or look in on them.

“Some use walkers, while others are partially blind,” Osborn said. “They can’t fix their own meals.”

Drivers are often the only person a meal recipient sees in a day’s time.

“(The drivers) aren’t just meeting people’s physical needs, they’re meeting emotional needs as well,” Osborn said. “We want to keep them living independently and out of a nursing home.”

Contact Steve Fogarty at 329-7146 or sfogarty@chroniclet.com.