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St. Lawrence County residents partake of community dinners, camaraderie

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The food, she said, was “awesome.” But that wasn’t why Susan L. Koulman joined friends and total strangers for dinner Thursday afternoon at Trinity Church in Potsdam.

“I didn’t want to be by myself on Thanksgiving,” the village resident said.

With one brother living on either coast and her mother in Florida, Ms. Koulman, 57, spent the holiday enjoying the companionship of people she has met at the Episcopal church’s monthly community suppers.

Companionship may be a draw for many, but parishioner and organizer Mary E. VanLeuven knows there’s another motivation for many.

“There is a real need,” Mrs. VanLeuven said. “So we are fulfilling it.”

About 75 people were expected to partake of Thursday’s meal. That’s about the same number of people who turn out every fourth Thursday for the community suppers, up from just 40 a few years ago, Mrs. VanLeuven said.

In Ogdensburg, Grand Knight Nelson J. Woods sees the pinch of a tight economy at work in the number of free Thanksgiving dinners he and other Knights of Columbus members serve up at the club on Hasbrouck Street, where members prepare for 250 to 300 diners and 400 or more take-out requests.

“Times are tough,” Mr. Woods said. “Every year it just goes up.”

“We might have six, seven delivered to one house,” Mr. Woods added. “If they ask for 10, we don’t question it.”

While diners queued up for take-out orders or relaxed in the hall, a phalanx of volunteers formed an orderly assembly line in the kitchen, spooning hot side dishes into Styrofoam trays. Among those volunteers was Bishop Terry R. LaValley of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Ogdensburg.

“We just know that there is tremendous community spirit here in Ogdensburg,” Bishop LaValley said between scoops of steaming mashed potatoes.

That community spirit greeted diners at the door, where Catholic teens doing community service in preparation for confirmation offered a smile and an escort to anyone needing an arm.

“I think it’s good, feeding people” who don’t have their own dinner, said Jordan N. Murdock, 15, of Ogdensburg.

“We are the future of the church,” he said.

Back in Potsdam, Ms. Koulman sat around a table with friends she met at previous community suppers: Lura Lee Haywood and Bob R. Parow and their son, Troy R. Parow, 6, of Potsdam.

“I’d like to be with family too,” Ms. Haywood said. “But his family lives in Florida and mine are all over,” she added, gesturing toward Mr. Parow.

Across the table, young Troy cuddled up to Ms. Koulman, who pondered the question of material need as she remembered her Netherlands-born father, who died in 1985. A member of the anti-Nazi Dutch resistance, he told her of lean, hungry years in war-ravaged Europe.

“They didn’t have enough to eat,” she said. “They had to eat tulip bulbs.”

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