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Have a Heart dinner in Elgin gives residents chance to help others

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Updated: March 17, 2014 11:58AM

ELGIN — Helping to feed 700 of their friends and neighbors might not be the most romantic way for a couple to spend Valentine weekend.

For some area couples, however, using part of their Saturday to help out at the fifth annual Have a Heart dinner can not just give back to the community, but help them learn more about the other person, said some of those couples.

An estimated 400 people, including volunteers, attended the annual dinner held at First United Methodist, 216 East Highland Ave., said organizer Jeff Turner.

While that number may have been smaller than in years past, a total of more than 700 people were fed as part of the event, he said.

Another 325 dinners went out to the Community Crisis Center, Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion posts, Habitat for Humanity ReStore and to neighborhood shut-ins, said Anthony Pedote. He has been helping in the kitchen each year, helping to direct volunteers and deliveries.

One of those volunteers was his girlfriend.

“It helps build a better relationship,” when two people volunteer together, Pedote said. “When you do this with a person you love, they also get to see the love you have for your community. It builds a stronger bond with your community, and a stronger bond with that significant other.”

Newly-engaged couple Joe McKeown and Cristina Castro agreed. Since they both enjoy volunteering and giving back to the community, serving meals at the Have a Heart dinner is an extension of that, they said.

“It makes us stronger, and the relationship stronger,” McKeown said.

“It helps when you share a passion for helping others,” said Castro.

Married for 23 years, Howard and Thelva Grogan of Streamwood have been coming to the Elgin Community Thanksgiving dinner as volunteers for the past three years. Saturday was the first time they volunteered for the Valentine’s event.

The family — including daughters, step-daughters, their families and grandchildren — have completely changed their Thanksgiving holiday plans in those three years to include the Elgin event, Thelva added.

They want their grandchildren to learn to give to others and their community — a behavior their grandparents try to practice, Thelva added.

“It is a blessing for us, as a family,” to volunteer together, she said.

Michelle Wilhelmi, wife of Hemmens Cultural Center director Butch Wilhelmi, said volunteering with her husband gave her a different view of her husband.

“He does this kind of thing so much … and I don’t know what he does,” Michelle laughed. The two work together in their family kitchen all the time, but working under someone else’s direction changes that relationship, she said.

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