Out of "thanks," a lot of "giving" took place at Elevation Combat Sports Academy in Fredonia.
The school's owner and operator, Dave Harriger provided Thanksgiving meals for nearly 90 families by hosting a free turkey drive at his Central Avenue location.
"I've had financial situations of my own, and it just got me thinking how financially strapped people are right now, so I wanted to do something to help people out," stated Harriger.
OBSERVER?Photo by Ann Belcher
Volunteers from Elevation Combat Sports Academy and proprietor Dave Harriger (seated, second from left) pose for a group photo while handing out free Thanksgiving Day meals on Sunday. Inspired by the giving spirit of his students, and the financial struggles facing many local families, Harriger organized the giveaway to assist at least 90 families this Thanksgiving.
His simple wish of humbly wanting to help strangers began an avalanche of support. He as well as his students, family, friends and businesses and individuals from the community rounded up turkeys, stuffing, canned vegetables, cranberry sauce, potatoes and gravy for nearly 90 packaged boxes.
His students' involvement was no surprise to the instructor, who teaches everything from mixed martial arts to jiu jitsu.
"Everybody has been so supportive, I would say just my own students really helped to inspire me. A lot of them are now asking 'what else can we do?' They just want to keep doing more now."
Women's instructor for Elevation Combat Sports Academy, Janinne Dugan enjoyed spending time with her academy family on a gorgeous afternoon to assist in handing out boxes.
"I'm amazed how everyone came together, and donated. With each box that was put together, there was a lot of love and compassion behind it in order to help people less fortunate. From all of the food donations, as well as cash donations, and people's personal time that was spent on this, it just shows what community is all about caring."
The instructors and students are no strangers to caring, according to Dugan.
"It's such a family atmosphere here. We have at least 35 women enrolled in women's classes here (which include boxing, kickboxing, and conditioning) and we have really formed an intense, close bond. We're always looking for things to do to help others, and today, this is just amazing."
"Dave has such a vision to help others, not even just in the school's environment, but anyone who is really in a jam of any type."
A martial arts student since the age of four, Harriger is realizing his dream by owning, operating and instructing at his school. His love for the sport is evident in how many of his students were on hand Sunday to assist in giving away turkeys. Even during the hours of the event, young students were being dropped off by their parents and coming to the table with full bags of non-perishable food items.
Student, Laura Geraci, who has participated in various physical fitness activities for at least 30 years couldn't say enough about her instructors and the school.
"This place is just the best. I have literally been everywhere to take fitness courses and I just can't say enough how it just rocks. Even my daughters have taken notice of how good the school and what I'm learning has been for me."
Dave's girlfriend Sarah, her children Mason and Megan, as well as his mother Deb and grandmother Shirley Cash chipped in wherever there was a need for the drive. Mason, as well as other students of the school, went to great lengths to don a turkey costume in order to draw in cars to the entrance.
Harriger, and his sister Michelle, spent a lot of time planning the free turkey drive, as well as advertising on Facebook, in the OBSERVER, and hand delivering fliers wherever they could. Operating on the honor system, Harriger chose not to place any financial requirements on issuing the boxes. While volunteers handed out boxes on site, Dave, Michelle and Janinne personally delivered Thanksgiving staples to area residents in need who were referred by peer advocates.
The door to door deliveries were especially touching, Deb noted.
"They were really emotionally overwhelmed after returning. People were just so grateful. They even had people offer them money for the food items."
"It really puts things into perspective when you consider how many people are having tough times. No matter how bad of time you might be having, other people are out there that always have it worse. None of us here today are individually wealthy with unlimited amounts of money, but we're still in a position to help someone less fortunate than us," stated Dave.
His sister Michelle agreed.
"I just can't thank everyone who helped out enough. It just takes a little bit to make a big difference."
While Dave, Michelle and Janinne will all be giving their thanks and enjoying holiday meals surrounded by their families and loved ones, Deb Harriger summed up the afternoon: "I just want to say 'God Bless' all of the people who were involved in this and helped out, we're truly thankful for everything they've done. I am so touched and so proud of this event, my heart is just overcome with emotion."
To learn more about courses offered at Elevation Combat Sports Academy interested students are encouraged to visit the school located at 355 Central Avenue in Fredonia, or may call Dave at 785-0547.