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A hot meal ‘makes us feel like it’s Christmas’

BRADENTON -- The smell of baked ham and scalloped potatoes wafted above the hungry crowd as Christmas Day waned in Bradenton.

Those waiting quietly at the door of the Salvation Army were ready for a hot meal, which shortly was served in a festive dining room, decorated with red and green tablecloths and a glistening tree.

“It makes us feel like it’s Christmas, Lord knows, we don’t have a tree or decorations,” said Tiffany Puhl, 23, of Bradenton, who was dining with her husband, Robert Martin, 22.

She said it has been so hard to get jobs, and their food stamps had run out. They resorted to local food pantries to keep them going, along with the holiday meal at the Salvation Army.

The menu included baked ham, baked turkey, scalloped potatoes, gravy, vegetable medley, cranberry sauce, rolls, varieties of pie and beverages.

“We decided to do something a little different; the kitchen staff decided to do ham, but we did turkey, as well,” said Christine Smith, director of community relations for the Salvation Army Manatee County, 1204 14th St. W.

Kitchen manager Steve Gergle, 60, of Bradenton, estimated the kitchen team had prepared 65 hams, 65 turkeys, 60 pounds of potatoes, 90 pounds of vegetables and 50 pies.

A volunteer staff of about 50 helped to prepare the food and serve the patrons, Smith said.

Among the “waitresses” for the day was Marge Klein, 78, of Ellenton, a retired nurse.

“It’s fun,” she said as she carried loaded plates to the diners.

Asked if she gave up her own Christmas Day dinner, she replied, “It’s just my husband and I. My family’s out of town. I like to be busy. It makes me appreciate what I have a little more.”

Scooping up steaming turkey on the plate was Tommy Mays, 34, of Bradenton. “The turkey was great,” he said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031.