Pitt hosts Christmas dinner, experience for needy

2,000 in need enjoy dinner, gifts at Pitt dining hall

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Regina White assisted in 52 deliveries when she was a nursing student decades ago at the former Roselia Foundling and Maternity Hospital in the Hill District, but she never married and never had children of her own.

"I'm an animal lover," said Ms. White, 84, who lives by herself in Edgewood. "I have no one."

She wasn't alone Wednesday.

For the third year in a row, Ms. White joined an expected 2,000 people at Market Central, the University of Pittsburgh's largest dining hall, for a Christmas Day dinner organized by the university, campus dining operator Sodexo and the Salvation Army.

"I like all the people together. ... My family's all gone," Ms. White said. "The homeless, a nice, decent meal. ... It's wonderful."

John Wilds, the university's assistant vice chancellor for community relations, said Pitt has hosted the dinner for the needy, staffed by volunteers from Sodexo and the university's faculty, staff and student body, for eight years.

"We want them to walk away with a Christmas feeling: a gift and a good meal," Mr. Wilds said.

In addition to the plentiful spread that included ham, turkey, sweet potatoes, pasta, salad and desserts, there were gifts for children, a chance to take photos with Santa, and the smooth sounds of The Savvy Band, a jazz and gospel group that includes several Sodexo employees.

Elvie and Marlene Carter, who live in Homewood and have a son who is a captain with the Salvation Army, said they come every year.

"It's about Christ," Mrs. Carter said. "It's about fellowship. ... We're all one."

Michelle Gilmore, a 42-year-old baker who works for Sodexo and lives in Stanton Heights, was serving a tray of eggnog.

"Anything to do with the homeless, I'm there," Ms. Gilmore said. "They didn't have to break my arm to get me here. I try to teach my daughter that it's very important to give back to the less fortunate."

Debbie Stone, 52, of Hazelwood brought her two grandsons, Antonio, 7, and Terrell, 6, at the suggestion of the boys' behavioral therapist.

Ms. Stone, who is disabled, adopted the boys after their mother died. She said the campus event gave them a Christmas experience, complete with gifts, that they wouldn't have been able to duplicate at home, where money is tight.

One of the boys got an ice hockey game, the other a set of small toy planes.

"They're pretty excited over the gifts," Ms. Stone said. "I don't have a large family. It would be the three of us at home. ... Trying to put on a dinner like this, it doesn't work right now."

Robert Zullo: rzullo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3909.

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