CHICAGO — A hot meal on the table and good company is giving many a reason to be thankful this holiday.
On Thursday, 3,000 Thanksgiving meals were served to people in need across the city with the help of hundreds of volunteers.
“I’ve been sitting here just absorbing. It’s a beautiful thing for me. I’m grateful,” said Willie Jackson, who attended a sit-down meal at The Salvation Army Freedom Center.
The sit-down service was held for two hours, but Salvation Army Captain Nikki Hughes said volunteers began serving early because a line had already formed outside.
“I just love the thought of family and friends coming to the table, and sometimes during the holidays, you don’t get that,” said Hughes.
Volunteers served 700 meals to community members who attended the sit-down service and around 2,300 hot-and-ready meals through their grab-and-go options and from the Salvation Army’s Mobile Outreach vehicles throughout the city.
For the last six years, organizers said local restaurant and hospitality group, Levy, has prepared made-from-scratch Thanksgiving meals for those in need.
“We’re restaurateurs by trade and a family at heart, and we pour that heart into each and every plate because we believe everyone has the right not just to a warm meal, but one done incredibly well,” said Andy Lansing, CEO of Levy.
The preparation for Thursday took four days and Hughes said, was a labor of love by the many volunteers who lent a hand to make it possible.
In total, 1,600 pounds of turkey, 600 pounds of sweet potatoes, 500 pounds of cranberries, 300 pounds of green beans, 400 pounds of russet potatoes for mashed potatoes, 120 pounds of butter, and 60 pounds of breadcrumbs for dressing, were prepared.
Many people told WGN News they were leaving with a full heart and a full stomach after Thursday’s dinner.
“I just told my guy, I’m full. It’s good. Everything is perfect for me,” said Jackson.
Life hasn’t always been easy for Jackson, he said, but he was grateful to be reminded of what it means to have people show you they care.
“I’ve been homeless for a long time, and it seemed like nobody cared,” said Jackson. “When I got here, they made me feel so welcomed.”
Before he got there, he said, he was also shown kindness by a young woman who ordered him a rideshare car to help him reach a place for a warm meal.
“I’m real grateful for that, you know,” Jackson shared.
Jackson said Thursday’s sit-down dinner reminded him that family isn’t all about who is related by blood. He found joy in watching the families celebrating with their loved ones and found joy in conversation with strangers-turned-friends.
“It made me feel a part of it because I haven’t been around my own family enough to see them play with their own kids,” he said.
Some families in attendance were migrants from Venezuela, who Hughes said, were experiencing their first ever Thanksgiving.
“I was telling them about Thanksgiving, and they don’t celebrate there but now they’re learning. You can hear the laughter; they are so excited to be here,” said Hughes. “I just know that their journey here may not have been the best, but now you can tell that they are just coming back and being family again.”