by justin strawser

KULPMONT - Eighty-nine-year-old Leo Laurnaitis was the first in line to get a plate of turkey and trimmings at the third annual Thanksgiving Day meal at Holy Angels Church Thursday, but it wasn't for himself.

He placed the steaming platter in front of his 92-year-old wife, Irene Laurnaitis, who can only move around with the assistance of a walker.

"I told her I'd buy her meal today," the Kulpmont man joked, contrasting the free nature of the feast sponsored by the church Thursday.

The couple has been married for 62 years, and they've found as they grow older, it gets more difficult to prepare meals. They don't have children, and they aren't close to the relatives who still live nearby.

So, the complimentary meal in the small borough is a perfect option for them.

"Every bit of this is good," Irene said with a plate full of turkey, stuffing, carrots, corn and mashed potatoes and gravy in front of her.

Leo said he was "crazy" about the dark meat, and called the offering "a beautiful meal."

The couple said they're thankful for their long life and long marriage. Even after a six-decade-long relationship, they both agreed they are thankful their flame of love is still burning.

"I love her very much. I'm dedicated to her," Leo said.

Paul Niglio, meal organizer, said there were 20 church members helping and he was expecting 60 and 70 people to eat meals Thursday.

"We don't want people being alone. It's Thanksgiving. Why sit at home with yourself if you don't have anyone? Be here with friends or people," he said.

The Rev. Paul Eby, pastor of Restoration Ministries in Shamokin, had similar words to say about their free meal for the community Thursday afternoon.

"It's the heartbeat of our church. We're passionate about Jesus's call to love our neighbors. To us, love is more than just a feeling. It's an action," he said.

There were 20 volunteers from the church and community helping serve the meal. LTS Plumbing and Heating, Rob's Roofing, Rob's Good Time Grill, Spectrum Technologies and congregation of Restoration Ministries donated the food.

Eby said he was expecting at least 100 people to eat meals.

"If you're lonely, you should come and enjoy fellowship," he said.

Wayne Derk, 72, of Shamokin, and his fiance, Shelia Neidig, 57, of Coal Township, were thankful for the church's efforts to host Thanksgiving.

"We appreciate this. I think the world of it. A lot of people can't afford a good meal," he said.

Derk said it's been a difficult year with high gas prices and expenses related to Neidig's neck problems, but he's thankful nevertheless.

"I'm thankful for my life, and God helping her with her neck," he said.

He's also quite grateful for the food.

"I could eat stuffing until it comes out of my ears," he said.