NEW YORK -- Victims of superstorm Sandy in the U.S. Northeast were comforted by free holiday meals and front-row seats to New York City's annual Thanksgiving holiday parade.

"We're thankful to be here and actually be a family and to feel like life's a little normal today," said Karen Panetta, who sat in a special parade viewing section set aside Thursday for New Yorkers displaced by the storm.

The parade, attended by more than 3 million people and watched by 50 million on TV, included such giant balloons as Hello Kitty, Buzz Lightyear and Sailor Mickey Mouse. Real-life stars included singer Carly Rae Jepsen.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg was reflective as he praised police, firefighters, armed services personnel, sanitation workers and volunteers involved in the response to the storm, which left more than 100 dead in the region.

The disaster-hit areas were flooded, this time with food and volunteers.

"We had three carloads of food," volunteer Beth Fernandez said. "It's really cool. It's my best, my favourite Thanksgiving ever."

Across the country, other cities offered a mix of holiday cheer and acts of charity.

In San Francisco, lines of the homeless and less fortunate began forming late Wednesday outside a church in the city's tough Tenderloin district that expected to serve more than 5,000 meals, said the Rev. Cecil Williams.

"We must make sure people can overcome all adversities," Williams said. "You can, you will and you must."