Providing dinners for 21,000

November 23, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,

Blustery northwest winds yesterday and temperatures that refused to budge failed to dampen David E. Swirnow's enthusiasm for overseeing the "Our Family to Your Family" program that ensures 21,000 turkey dinners will help brighten the Thanksgiving holiday for Baltimore's low-income families, the unemployed, disabled and elderly.

In a warehouse parking lot in the 2800 block of Sisson St., Swirnow, president of Swirnow Building Systems, stood with a clipboard in his hand. Attached to the clipboard was a colored schematic diagram that showed what time some 60 nonprofit organizations were scheduled to arrive and pick up the dinners to distribute to their clients.

"This really is orderly chaos," Swirnow said, as traffic on 28th Street came to a halt and a tractor-trailer slowly backed into the parking lot of Swirnow Building Systems to disgorge its holiday cargo.

With clockwork precision, vans and minivans arrived on time and patiently waited their turn to claim the dinners while their drivers swapped smiles and kind words with volunteers.

Standing in neatly organized piles of light-colored brown boxes, which Swirnow called "food baskets," were all the required fixings for a Thanksgiving dinner.

Inside each were a 14-15 pound turkey and five pounds of potatoes, green beans, cranberry sauce, gravy mix and dinner rolls.

At 5:30 a.m. yesterday, a fleet of trucks that had been donated for the day by John Paterakis, the Baltimore bakery magnate, set off to Virginia in the pre-dawn to pick up 1,133 boxes that would be ready to distribute at noon.

And for good measure, Paterakis' H&S Bakery donated 6,800 dozens of dinner rolls.

Swirnow was joined by his employees, sponsors, volunteers and family members to help in the program that had been established by his father, Richard A. Swirnow, developer of HarborView condominiums, that began in 1997 with 1,000 food baskets.

"We now have the third generation of the Swirnow family participating in the program. My son, who is now in college, started helping when he was a little kid," said Beth Schaeffer Swirnow, who said the planning for the "Adopt A Turkey" dinner giveaway begins in late summer, when they begin contacting nonprofits to ascertain need in the community.

"This is a most important year, and being able to give back makes us feel good," David Swirnow said.

Andy Naden, a volunteer who by day is an executive vice president of Swirnow Building Systems, came warmly dressed to ward off the chill and lend his expertise to the day's activities.

"This is an orderly, military-style operation. We know how to deliver steel girders to a building site, and we know how to do this," he said.

"And by doing this, we get a great gift out of it, and that gift is that it's better to give than receive," he said.

Another "Our Family to Your Family" holiday dinner giveaway was going on at the same time at HarborView on Key Highway.

"I think we'll be all finished by 2 p.m.," said a jubilant but somewhat tired David Swirnow.

Across town in Catonsville yesterday afternoon, 100 residents from the House of Ruth, Sarah's House, Christopher's Place and My Sister's Lodge sat down at the Woman's Club of Catonsville to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner.

The meal, served by the Eternal Light of Helping Hands Inc., was the seventh annual dinner for the homeless that is dedicated to the memory and generosity of the late Bea Gaddy.

Eternal Light of Helping Hands' executive director, Sandy Johnson, worked with Gaddy in East Baltimore from the late 1980s until her death in 2001. Gaddy's Thanksgiving dinners for the homeless were legendary for decades.

"On today's menu was turkey with stuffing, of course, ham, green beans, peas, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese, which is always a big favorite, plus a variety of desserts, including pumpkin pie," said Hazel McWeeney, a volunteer.

Football fans heading to M&T Stadium today can donate food or cash to the Maryland Food Bank, whose volunteers will be on hand to assist with the collection.

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