Phyllis Taylor, who coordinates Sunday dinners at Face to Face, recalled how Alice "always sat on the aisle of the church, so when people came down for Communion she would shake their hands and greet them."
Beverly Treadwell, her head barely visible above the lectern, said Alice had been smart. She wrote poems. She was "caring, lovable, and sharing.
"The feeling in the heart is pain," Treadwell said, her voice swallowed up by the vast, 19th-century church. "But I also feel joy 'cause you are in heaven with the king."
Ernest "Flip" Flippen spoke of a loving aunt who "used to read me the newspaper every Sunday as I ate my lunch." (Flip, who described himself as "70 and heavenly," worked as a cutter of men's suits for 17 years until machines took his job away.)
Others honored murdered sons, cousins killed by crack, mothers and grandparents terribly missed, especially at holiday time. As they spoke, heads bowed in the pews.
Inspiration was also available if one looked up. Throughout the ceremony, a half-dozen men scrambled up and down red scaffolding, like so many Spider-Men. They were painting and spackling 50 feet above the main altar, part of a restoration project due to end by Thanksgiving.
It was hard to avoid comparisons. Like those who live on society's fragile edges, these men had no safety net. One careless step invited catastrophe.
"We see people at the bottom layer of the economy," said Susan Wilson, Face to Face's social worker. "They used to work at the car wash, places like that, and now they're losing their jobs."
Helping organize the event were nine freshmen from the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School, who chose Face to Face to fulfill a course requirement to work with a nonprofit for one semester.
"They've spent a tremendous amount of time here, every weekend, really getting to know the people," said Face to Face executive director Mary Kay Meeks-Hank.
It was awkward at first, the blending of Ivy League kids and the men and women at Face to Face. The former are on track for megawatt futures, tuition and fees topping $50,000 a year; the latter have modest goals, such as a bed to sleep in.
"At first, it was kind of getting us out of our comfort zone, but now we feel a lot more comfortable. It's been eye-opening," said student Chris Miller of Washington, D.C., who wants a career in sports management.
"Here are people we almost overlook, and they have so much to contribute," said Radhika Mahidhara of South Africa, considering two very different careers - actuarial scientist or classical cellist.
Face to Face offers art and writing classes, health and legal clinics, computer training, children's programs, a place to shower. About 430 people have dinner here every weekend.
Meeks-Hank said she was seeing more families these days, but even with the lousy economy, "there really is an atmosphere of joy and gratitude. I say, 'Hey, good morning. How are you?' And they say, 'Blessed.' "
After the ceremony, the blessings of food filled the dining room. No sadness here. Just thanksgiving.
Contact staff writer Virginia A. Smith at 215-854-5720 or firstname.lastname@example.org.