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The bad news arrived by email Tuesday, the day before 97 Rock’s DJ Jickster began his weeklong residency in a semi trailer for Operation: Rock Out Hunger to drum up donations of Thanksgiving turkeys for the Food Bank of Western New York.

One of the biggest single turkey donors couldn’t contribute this year.

“This year will be the first time in many years that my mom Deborah Little will not be able to make her donations,” her son Joseph wrote. Then he went on to explain how a burglar broke into her North Buffalo home and stole nearly $3,000 in cash she had accumulated by collecting deposit bottles and saving spare change. The money was to go for turkey purchases

“My poor mother is so upset,” he added. “This is something she looks forward to doing every year. In the past my mom donated 100 turkeys and all the goods to make the sides, and that was just one Thanksgiving!”

But then word got to restaurateur Russell Salvatore, whose Russell’s Steaks, Chops and More restaurant sits next to the Quaker Steak & Lube restaurant on Transit Road in Lancaster, where Jickster and the Rock Out Hunger donation truck are parked for the week.

“I was down South,” Salvatore said Wednesday evening. “My manager, Mark Jerge, called me and I said, ‘That’s so awful.’ But what is Buffalo about? I can never say no. It took just a millisecond.”

In that millisecond, Salvatore pledged to make up for the stolen turkey money and donate it to the Food Bank in Deborah Little’s name. “It comes from the heart,” Salvatore said. “I feel good just helping this person.”

Little was overwhelmed and struggled to hold back tears as she hugged Jerge when the donation was announced Wednesday afternoon.

“She is the epitome of our clients,” Food Bank spokesman Mike Billoni said Wednesday evening. “When they’re back on their feet, they’re the first to come back and support us. She wanted to give back to the pantries that helped her,” he said.

Little had turned to the Food Bank several years ago when she was out of work due to a disability and was unable to provide Thanksgiving dinner for her family, Billoni explained. After her situation improved, she began saving money, getting assistance from Wegmans and other places and started making annual holiday donations to the Food Bank.

“One year when the Food Bank didn’t have any vegetables, she came here with a beat-up pickup truck full of vegetables,” Jickster said.

“Her point is that one person can do this,” her son said Wednesday night, “you don’t have to be a millionaire to help people out. She’s already planning on her donations for next year.”

Billoni noted that Little has spoken with the Food Bank’s volunteer coordinator and soon will be helping out at the agency.

Thanks to Wednesday’s contribution, the Rock Out Hunger campaign got off to a roaring start. “Each year we’ve surpassed the amount from previous years,” Jickster noted. “Last year we got over 2,000 turkeys. We have 451 right now in the first hour of the drive.”

email: danderson@buffnews.com