Published: December 21, 2014 – 09:12 PM | Updated: December 22, 2014 By Stephanie Warsmith: Beacon Journal staff writer

The nicest restaurant Hanna Eckels had eaten at was Red Lobster.

So, Eckels, 19, was wowed by the atmosphere at Dante Boccuzzi Akron (DBA) restaurant, where a three-course dinner was served Sunday to her and about 70 other homeless people in Akron.

“Look, there’s two forks,” said Eckels, who has been “couch surfing” between friend’s houses since she was 17.

As Eckels waited for the meal to be served, she admitted to being both nervous and excited.

“I’ve never set foot in a fancy restaurant,” she said.

This was the second year that the Formerly Homeless Foundation, started by developer Joel Testa, served a meal for the homeless before the holidays, offering the chance to 25 more people this year than last year. The foundation also provided 1,000 bagged lunches and clothing for the homeless, with the items delivered to several locations Sunday by a cadre of 75 volunteers.

“The hope was to keep building on it over the year,” Joel Testa said. “It’s easier at the holidays because you’ve got people who want to engage. We’re looking for more opportunities for people to be involved all year round.”

Community Support Services (CSS), which provides services for the homeless, passed out tickets for the dinner and coordinated transportation to DBA, located in the Northside district across from Luigi’s.

The menu for the dinner was focaccia bread, pasta fagioli soup, braciole, which is an Italian dish featuring a meatball wrapped in flank steak and covered with sauce, and tiramisu parfait. Testa said he wanted the meal, which would retail for about $60, to be rustic and hearty with the “flavor of Dante.”

Several veterans who are being helped by Safe Haven, a new temporary housing program for homeless veterans provided by CSS, attended the dinner. Among them was Keith Maske, who is in the process of finding new housing and will return to work next week.

“This is marvelous,” said Maske, who served in the U.S. Army for eight years. “It really makes us feel good after we served our country that people care about us. This really touched my heart.”

Keith Stahl, director of residential services for CSS, said the dinner gives those who attend the chance to go to a place they otherwise wouldn’t be able to, but he also sees a deeper meaning.

“It helps restore faith in community and in humanity,” he said. “Not everyone is kicking them out of a campsite. It’s giving them hope.”

Dean Cosgray was a repeat customer for the meal, but he may not be back next year. Cosgray, who has been living in a tent, will soon move to the Commons at Madaline Park, an apartment building that caters to the homeless, veterans and the disabled.

“I really think it’s a good thing for the homeless community,” he said of the meal.

Cosgray said he was excited to come to DBA again, especially because he recalls well the dinner he had last year.

“I can still taste it,” he said.