Sweet melodies to sweet potatoes ... a joyful free feed

The people who were served Thanksgiving turkey-and-ham dinners at the Holy Cross Church hall in South Baltimore got an added treat.

Helena Speicher's band played for them throughout dinner, offering such old-time favorites as "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" and "Rock-a-bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody."


Speicher's band features an electric piano, a violin, a clarinet and spoons. Several diners took spins around a makeshift dance floor. A woman who used a cane to get around refused to let her infirmity keep her from dancing.

"We do it up just like downtown," said Jaye Burtnick of the South Baltimore Emergency Relief Center, which served the meals.


The church hall, in the 100 block of E. West St., overflowed with diners and volunteer waiters, waitresses and cooks. The menu for the free dinner was turkey and ham, corn bread stuffing, sauerkraut, sweet and mashed potatoes, green beans and homemade pies.

"We had so many volunteers . . . we had to send some of them home early," said Burtnick.

Al Pittman, a banquet cook at the Sheraton Inner Harbor Hotel, and Rae Barney, a steward there, roasted and carved 20 birds for the diners.

"We get the homeless, the lonely elderly -- anybody who wants to eat," Burtnick said.

The scene at Holy Cross, minus the band, was similar at other neighborhood centers that served Thanksgiving dinners -- St. Michael and All Angels Church in Charles Village, Paul's Place in Pigtown, Our Daily Bread in downtown Baltimore, Bread and Beans in Fells Point and Bea Gaddy's in East Baltimore.

"We served 200 persons here with a beautiful dinner and gave out socks, candy and oranges as presents," said Sister Eleanor Noll, O.S.B., of Bread and Beans in the 1600 block of Aliceanna St.

"In other years, it was mostly men, but now we're seeing more women and children. We used up our entire supply of canned goods and we're running low," Sister Eleanor said.

Gaddy, the activist who runs Bea Gaddy's Women and Children Center, had a yellow tent erected on a lot in the 500 block of N. Chester St. Inside, hundreds of free dinners were served throughout the day and evening.


Lines formed in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant at Howard and Fayette streets, where 40 employees prepared and distributed 2,000 free box dinners.

Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke stopped by the fast-foot outlet at midmorning and handed out dinners.

"It's good that these corporations are doing something for the people who support them throughout the year," said James Thomas, a retired Army sergeant who lives in the 1200 block of E. Lafayette Ave. "But, when I was in the Army, you have not seen poverty until you've been to India. You might see a little laziness here, but not the poverty of India."

Thomas said that he was going to spend Thanksgiving afternoon organizing his 900 video tapes.

While a lot of food stores were closed for the holiday, those that stayed open reported heavy business.

"We've been busy as the dickens. It's the one holiday when everybody comes home to eat. We're out of pie shells and sage," said Al Bobo, assistant manager of the Mount Clare Safeway in the 1200 block of W. Pratt St.


"We've had lines all day long. Right now we've run out of turkey gravy," said Cathleen Verdon, an employee at the Parkville Super Fresh store.

By nightfall, Haussner's Restaurant had served nearly 2,000 dinners to paying customers. There was a line of diners at the popular East Baltimore restaurant throughout the day.

Stephen George, Haussner's manager, said that while turkey was his most popular entree, roast goose and capon were also favorites. "And there's always a demand for seafood."

Joe Ruggiero, a Greyhound-Trailways Bus Lines employee, worked at a nearly empty bus station yesterday. "We've been busy [this week] and had no problems. But what went out of here in three days will come back in one -- Sunday. Watch out!"