The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

November 19, 2012

Restaurant owners offer holiday meal to those in need

JOHNSTOWN — Michael Bair, Bob Stephens and other like-minded folks are giving thanks this Thanksgiving Day by serving others.

The pair, owners of Shorty’s Italian Smokehouse, 1761 Goucher St., are sponsoring a free Thanksgiving dinner for the community from noon to 4 p.m. Thursday at The Grove in Westmont.

They are especially welcoming senior citizens, families that have lost loved ones, people who have no family in the area, and folks who are struggling because of economy.

There will be games and activities to keep children entertained.

Bair and Stephens, both Westmont natives, started preparing for the event in September.

Bair said they were nervous at first, wondering it they would be able to make the event come to fruition.

But their employees, customers, businesses, churches and others  came through, donating turkeys, other food for the meal, and money to buy food.

Their employees –  Dorothy Clark, Samuel Mahon, Sterling Vamos and Dan Curry – their customers and high school students from Westmont Hilltop, Greater Johnstown and Bishop McCort will help to serve the meal to the 300 to 350 people who are expected to attend.

“We actually had to turn donations and volunteers away due to an overwhelming response,” Bair said.

Bair said it’s important to help others.

“I believe that if you are fortunate enough to be in a position to help people, you should,” he said.

Stephens said he personally has been in a position in which he needed a hand, so he knows what it feels like.

“A lot of people seem to be falling through the cracks of the system,” he said. “They go to work every day, but it’s still not enough to get by.

“I feel compelled to help those folks out and make them feel welcome,” he said.

He said he knows many senior citizens who are struggling and have to make a choice about whether to buy medicine or food.

“I feel we could make a difference, even if it’s just for one day,” he said.

Stephens likewise has been overwhelmed by the amount of support from the community.

“We would not be able to do this event without them,” he said, adding that officials at The Grove have been great also by helping to coordinate the event.

Stephens said another reason to sponsor the event is to give back to the community for supporting their restaurant.

Both said leftover monetary donations will be donated to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Leftover food will be donated to a food pantry.

The men are planning to make the event an annual one.

For their efforts, Bair and Stephens are the Persons of the Week.

Fran Sivi, director of the Westmont Hilltop Recreation Commission, which manages The Grove, said Bair and Stephens are community-minded and help with the Commission’s Hilltop Days – Craft and Cruise Show and sponsor a team in an annual charity rollerblade hockey tournament that the commission co-sponsors.

“They’re good guys,” she said. “They have big hearts. They want to give back to the community that has helped to make them successful.

“I’m thrilled that they are doing this community dinner and that we (Commission) can be a small part of it.”

Donna Meinecke, manager of the Somerset Trust Co. office in Westwood and a supporter of the event, said Bair and Stephens are doing a good job of organizing the dinner.

“I think it’s great for the community,” she said.

Tribune-Democrat editors select a Person of the Week from nominations made by readers. To nominate someone, call 532-5058, 24 hours a day.

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