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Fifth annual Have a Heart dinner set to bring Elgin community together

In Neighborhood Deli owner Jeff Turner manager Candice Gillen are getting ready for annual 'Have Heart' community dinner scheduled for

In the Neighborhood Deli owner Jeff Turner and manager Candice Gillen are getting ready for the annual "Have a Heart" community dinner scheduled for Feb. 15. | Sun-Times Media file

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Updated: March 6, 2014 6:34AM

ELGIN — Having a meal together is about more than just filling one’s stomach, says Jeff Turner.

“Food is the tie that binds,” said Turner, owner of In the Neighborhood Deli. “It means more than cooking a steak and eating it. For thousands of years, food (has been) the common denominator that brings people together.”

For the past five years Turner, his staff from Elgin’s In the Neighborhood Deli, along with friends and donors, have been bringing people together by putting on both the community Thanksgiving dinner and the Have a Heart Dinner, held the Saturday closest to Valentine’s Day.

This year, he hopes to expand the Feb. 15 Valentine dinner by delivering food to area seniors who may not have been able to attend the meal in the past.

The idea came from the success of delivering 200 meals to area seniors served by the Salvation Army Golden Diners program. On Thanksgiving, 150 volunteers brought meals to Elgin-area seniors before the community dinner opened.

It was the most successful Thanksgiving dinner yet, serving an estimated 1,700 residents, Turner said.

It got him excited to extend the Have a Heart dinner as well, he said.

“We need to reach out and take Have a Heart to the community,” Turner said.

Typically, fewer residents have attended Have a Heart. The February date, sometimes-iffy weather, and other factors play into that, he added.

But that doesn’t mean he will rest on laurels and not continue to push the event.

“We will deliver to shut-ins, firemen — because they work and can’t get out. We have volunteers willing to take food to places, but we still need more,” he said.

“If anybody knows of anyone who needs to eat, who wants to share, but can’t get there … come in. I would like to serve those neighbors.”

The dinner is set from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at First United Methodist, 216 E. Highland Ave.

The menu has not yet been set but is often based on the donations received leading up to the Saturday dinner.

Desserts, however, are always donated by the community.

At times, Turner said, he feels guilty after one of the community dinners he helps make happen.

“We make so many people feel good and teach so many people how to help” in the community. “They want to help, and this gives them an opportunity to do that,” he said.

There is a base of volunteers who have been attending the two dinners for much of those five years, said Candice Gillen, operations manager for the three delis Turner now owns.

“They come in, take off their coats and catch up from the last dinner. It was awesome,” she said.

Those volunteers and those just coming out to eat come up to both of them and express their thanks for either the opportunity or the meal.

“We are so busy, and we work so much, putting in 60 hour weeks” leading up to the dinners, Gillen said.

“They recharge us to keep going,” she said.

To donate to the dinner, checks may be dropped off at In the Neighborhood Deli, 185 N. Edison Ave., during business hours. To volunteer, people should contact Tuner at

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