Divided we’re weak, together we’re one: A community Thanksgiving Dinner
October 30, 2013 6:00PM
Updated: December 1, 2013 8:20AM
As the cold weather sets in and we prepare for an uncertain winter season, I’m reminded it is a time to start preparing for the Community Thanksgiving dinner. We have been organizing this event for the past five years, and it has grown in attendance every year. It is a fun-filled day of food, family, friendship and fellowship. I would like to take a moment to share how the event has evolved over the years.
We were approached five years ago from a minister from a local church asking if we had any ideas for how to feed the masses of people on Thanksgiving. The church had been responsible for the Thursday soup kitchen and was worried about the volume they may see on Thanksgiving. At that point, we partnered with The Salvation Army, Shales McNutt and the United Way to plan the Community Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless. The city of Elgin graciously donated the Hemmens space to host the event, and we received donations from businesses and individuals alike. The event was a huge success.
At the event, I really had an aha moment. As I was standing in the dining room watching more than 700 people enjoy a meal, my son (7 at the time), came to me and said, “Dad? I thought this was a dinner for the homeless.” I answered, “It is.” He said, “But I go to school with that boy,” as he pointed to a family of 10 sitting across the dining room. At that point, I realized I had found a way to give back, bring people together and begin my part in building our community of one.
A rush of emotions ran through my head for the next few days until I, and my team at the deli, decided we wanted to do more dinners like this but transform them into community dinners. Our definition of community is “a group of people working together for the betterment of each other and those around them.” There are not geographical distinctions, nor are there financial requirements. All we have asked is that you come down, enjoy a meal and meet someone new or reacquaint with a friend. Bring your smile and an open heart.
Since we began the Thanksgiving Community Dinner, we also have organized the annual Have a Heart community dinner and several community cookouts. Recently, we were lucky enough to expand to East Dundee and plan to have a Christmas community dinner in the Fox River Valley as well. We feel that the more of these we can have, the closer we will all become. In light of recent recessions, fiscal arguments, government shutdowns and political bickering, we need to unite as one locally. We start grass-roots in our local communities and expand from there. We have been blessed to be able to put these dinners on with the help of you — local residents, businesses and organizations. The partners responsible for these dinner are abundant. For all of the assistance we have been given through money, food and volunteering, we are always appreciative and all of those attending are as well.
I personally have made some lifelong friends from all walks of life; and while many say I have helped them, it is the community — their community — that has done that. And at times, I feel guilty because I get so much out of these dinners. They re-energize me and my partners. I firmly believe they energize the community as well. Although I have never asked any of my staff at the delis to help, they all feel it their obligation to assist. The culture is being built — a culture of togetherness. This is constantly being cultivated in Elgin and the surrounding communities. The amount of support we receive and the amount of volunteers we meet every year amaze me.
This year, we have been blessed by The Salvation Army for reaching out to Food For Friends and securing a donation of 1,200 pounds of turkey. The turkey is one major cost involved in these dinners. The many organizers of these dinners are again stepping up to aid in marketing and planning so we can reach our goal of 2,000 people served. First United Methodist Church in Elgin is our gracious host for our dinners now. The are a wonderful organization and always welcoming to us and their community.
A special thanks goes to all of our past and present partners. We are on course for another great event. We are still taking donations financially as well as desserts for the event. We ask that you find it in your heart to help through any of the many avenues. If not financially, maybe you bake and could donate a dessert. If not that, maybe volunteering is a possibility. If not that, you can contribute by coming to the dinner and enjoying yourself with family and friends and sharing your Thanksgiving with others. For more details, visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/communitythanksgivingdinner, on our website at www.itndeli.com, or by phone at 847-888-8486.
This year, I give thanks to you — my community of ONE.
Jeff Turner is owner of In The Neighborhood Deli & Cafe in Elgin and East Dundee.