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Originally published Friday, November 23, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Salvation Army shelter serves holiday meals — and hope, too

As the line of people stretched down the sidewalk and into the parking lot of the Salvation Army's William Booth Center, Robin MacDonald...

Seattle Times staff reporter

As the line of people stretched down the sidewalk and into the parking lot of the Salvation Army's William Booth Center, Robin MacDonald took a breather in the bustling, steamy kitchen where volunteers were filling paper plates with turkey, stuffing and mashed potatoes.

MacDonald, 55, didn't want to talk about what happened last year, didn't want to discuss how he became homeless.

"I came out of a bad situation," is all he would say.

But no matter: MacDonald "is a success story," said John McDonough, the Salvation Army's shelter manager everyone calls Captain.

For eight months, MacDonald lived in the center's dorm-style homeless shelter on Maynard Avenue South in Seattle's Chinatown International District. But on Tuesday, he moved into a one-bedroom apartment in Federal Way.

He doesn't have any furniture yet and sleeps on the floor, wrapped in a quilt. And while it's a little strange, being alone after spending so much time in the company of 150 other men, MacDonald says he's blessed.

"I don't like being on the streets," he said. It's stressful, he said, "not being stable, not knowing where the next meal is going to be."

Now that he's found a bit of stability, thanks to McDonough and a Salvation Army caseworker, MacDonald wanted to help others who still struggle to fill their bellies. He was among an army of volunteers who cooked a Thanksgiving feast for roughly 500 people, all of them homeless or working poor.

"I don't like to see anybody go hungry," said MacDonald, a former Army cook who also did a stint cooking for a traveling carnival. "It's important to me because I've been there, done that. I know what it's like to be hungry."

There was plenty of food Thursday: 88 turkeys were served, along with 10 gallons of gravy, 75 pounds of instant mashed potatoes, 75 pounds of green beans, 120 pounds of stuffing and 712 slices of pie.

If you wanted a second helping or even a to-go plate for later, you got it. Volunteers also handed out socks, blankets and stocking caps to help the mostly male crowd stay a little warmer through winter's dark, chilly nights.

"I think the Salvation Army is one of those organizations that gives a huge amount back to the community," said Seattle police Chief Gil Kerlikowske, who — for his eighth year in a row — served sliced turkey from an aluminum pan onto plates that were then whisked into the crowded dining room.

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"People are treated with such respect and gentleness when they come in here," he said.

While most of the diners didn't want to be interviewed, Brian Larcey was blunt about being newly homeless. He said he was kicked out of his apartment last week over a domestic-violence complaint — unfounded, he says — filed against him by an ex-girlfriend.

"It's a struggle," said Larcey, 57, his belongings packed into two plastic shopping bags. "It just snowballs on you, it steamrolls you. I'm trying to fight, but it's not easy. It's a vicious cycle, and I'm hoping it changes for me and everyone else here."

Change is possible, said McDonough, the shelter manager who is also the center's head chef. He's seen it happen, men who arrive fearful and defensive but who, over time, "open up like a flower and blossom."

"It makes me feel good, to contribute something to them," McDonough said. By saying, "come in the door and have some dinner, you're sharing some of yourself with your fellow man."

Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or sgreen@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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