As Chicagoans gathered with loved ones to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, several organizations provided meals and a homey environment to those who needed them.
One of the earliest to start was Catholic Charities of Chicago in River North. Volunteers arrived at 8:30 a.m. to start preparing to serve “traditional Thanksgiving meals.”
The holiday event was an extension of the group’s usual programming, feeding about 350 people every Tuesday. The charity expected to fill the 140-person room three times Thursday, with 50 volunteers serving.
Noreen Russo, Catholic Charities’ senior director of program operations, said preparations started Wednesday night when tables were set. The walls were decorated with art and photos created by regular diners, some of whom were expected for the holiday.
“We want the room to feel like it’s theirs,” Russo said.
Russo also said that as demand for services has increased, the room of people they were feeding became more diverse, creating a small slice of Chicago in their building every week.
“It’s just an amazing example of Chicago, this is our melting pot,” Russo said. “All are welcome. … It’s like a family.”
In Hyde Park, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition served 500 Thanksgiving meals from Gibson’s Steakhouse.
Yoga teacher Sapphire Robinson, an Englewood resident, attended the event for the first time with her family after one of her students recommended it. She said she was happy about the variety of greens being served and was excited to try pumpkin pie for the first time.
“It’s a blessing that people are out here going above and beyond to feed others who may be less fortunate,” Robinson, 32, said.
It wasn’t just an event for food though, as she said the warm atmosphere “had to go hand in hand” with the food being served.
“Some people don’t get a chance to experience that love or someone caring for them on the regular, so this right here is very important,” Robinson said. “I’m feeling [the] warmth. … It’s very comfortable.”
Timona Liddell, a Bronzeville resident, also attended the event with some of her family — her mom, Latonia Bonner, and her 7-month-old daughter, Nova.
Bonner has volunteered with Rainbow PUSH before, but this was her first time attending in a few years, and it was Liddell’s first time.
Liddell said she, along with many other members of her family, usually had to work through the holidays, so being able to enjoy a holiday meal at the “community-based” event was a pleasant change of pace.
“It just feels good not being at work on Thanksgiving and actually being with family, even if it wasn’t our immediate family,” Liddell said. “It just felt like home.”
Across the city in Jefferson Park, Friendship Presbyterian Church was also working to feed those in need — both in its affordable housing unit, Friendship Community Place, and asylum-seekers across the street at the 16th District police station.
The Rev. Shawna Bowman, the pastor of Friendship Presbyterian for the last 12 years, has been coordinating meals and other services for the community for more than a year.
The church had initially planned to cancel the usual Thursday programming for the holiday, but more volunteers than expected signed up to help and plans were made to continue the weekly traditions.
The group polled the people living in the building as well as migrants living across the street to find out what “comfort foods” they would like to have for Thanksgiving. The overwhelming response was arepas — a typically Venezuelan or Colombian stuffed corn cake. The top pick for filling was avocado.
Aha’s “Take On Me” played from the kitchen as the volunteer staff finished the last quarter of the prepared meals — 400 arepas total — just half an hour before doors opened to the public.
Jesus Marcano, an asylum-seeker staying at the 16th District police station, said that although he was sad to not be having a meal with his family, he was glad to be sharing a home-cooked meal with the new family he has made living at the shelter.
“We’re super grateful because although we’re far from home, it’s nice to sit down in a warm environment and share food from home,” Marcano said through an interpreter.