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Cleveland hosts Thanksgiving for area children, families

CLEVELAND -- When the elevator doors opened, Paul Dolan was there waiting. The Indians owner, chairman and chief executive officer greeted the team's guests with a smile on Sunday, offered to take their coats and hung them on a rack outside Progressive Field's Terrace Club.

It was a small gesture on the part of Dolan, but it was a glimpse into the importance that the Cleveland organization has placed on being there for the local community. A host of front-office and staff members were on hand Sunday to help serve a Thanksgiving dinner to an estimated 375 people, providing the the kind of holiday festivities that the families might not otherwise experience.

"Not only are they a good organization that's trying to put a championship on the field," said Ron Soeder, the president of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Cleveland, "but they care about the citizens of Cleveland and those that are less fortunate."

The team played host to groups from the Boys & Girls Clubs, City Mission, OhioGuidestone, Our Lady of the Wayside and Shoes and Clothes for Kids at Sunday's Thanksgiving event. On Thursday, Indians staff members from the front office also helped out at the Cleveland Foodbank, packing and sorting food for distribution and preparing hot meals.

During Sunday's dinner, which featured traditional Thanksgiving dishes, kids were chasing the club's mascots -- Slider was joined by the three racing Hot Dogs -- and families got in line to have their photo taken. While dining, they enjoyed a view of the baseball field, which was revealed just in time for the event after warm weather melted the snow that recently blanketed downtown Cleveland.

While Indians general manager Chris Antonetti served food to those in line, team president Mark Shapiro took time to greet the team's guests throughout the Terrace Club.

"One of our four commitments all year is to positively impact the community," Shapiro said. "This is one opportunity for us, among the others, where we firsthand get to volunteer as an organization and see some short-term impact. The important thing is that today just sets a tone for what we do every day during the year.

"This is just one meal on one day. We need to continue to focus on making that impact 365 days a year."

It might only be a one-day event, but those in attendance knew it had the potential to have a lasting impact.

Colleen Lennon, who is part of the leadership group at Cleveland's Stepstone Academy -- a school that falls under OhioGuidestone's umbrella -- enjoyed the reaction from the families and kids in the room. Lennon overheard two of the school's children raving about the food that the club prepared for them.

"I just heard them say, 'This is the best meal I've ever eaten!'" Lennon said with a smile. "They get very excited to have events like this and to be able to be with family. Unfortunately, their circumstances don't allow that all the time. They deserve it. They work so hard."

Stepstone Academy, which is located less than two miles from Progressive Field, pulls roughly 85 percent of its student body from Cleveland's central neighborhood, according to Lennon. Through OhioGuidestone, families not only have access to educational services, but medical and mental health care. Lennon said the goal is to break the cycle of poverty that affects so many urban families.

Laurel Wirtanen-Siloy, who is a special gifts officer for OhioGuidestone, was thrilled to see Sunday's Thanksgiving event come together.

"It's priceless," she said. "The families and children that we serve are dealing with issues of food insecurity all the time. ... Then, they get an amazing opportunity like this that gives them a chance to come together as a family. They get to celebrate a holiday that most people in this country are able to celebrate, but because of their financial circumstances, they often can't celebrate it to the extent of everybody else."

Soeder stressed that Sunday's Thanksgiving was only a glimpse the Cleveland organization's contributions.

"The Indians are committed to our community 365 days a year," Soeder said. "They're really involved, and they care about the status of urban kids. This is a way for our kids to get to some place they've never been, and their families get to have a wonderful meal.

"I mean, when the owner of the Indians takes your coat and hangs it up, that's special."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.
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