Hunger Doesn’t Take a Holiday

Nov 1, 2019

George and his three children lost their mother to cancer four years ago. George is a homeowner, but now has to work two jobs to afford his home and care for the children. Food is often scarce in the household, and sometimes they exist on rice and beans for weeks at a time. By his own admission, George is not a very good cook, and the family greatly misses their mother and her cooking skills.

Thanksgiving was a meanginful time of tradition for the family, when the mother always made a feast of her special recipes. However, George has never cooked a turkey or the type of sides his family loves. Money is very tight, and last year they were looking at rice and beans when they learned about The Salvation Army Freedom Center’s Thanksgiving meal. 

On Thanksgiving Day, the family arrived together, all dressed in clean clothes and with perfectly combed hair. George had a huge smile on his face as a volunteer waiter seated the family at a table with a glowing candle and festive decorations. Their waiter took special care to serve them their drinks, rolls and butter, meal, and dessert. They were allowed seconds and anything they wished. The family said grace together and truly meant every word of gratitude.

Since that meal, the family has gotten more involved in other programs at the Freedom Center, often having dinner on weeknights there. The children attend the after-school program and George went through the Employment Services Program to find a better-paying job. The three children now refer to the Corps Officer as Grandma, and the whole Freedom Center staff considers them family.

George and his children are not alone. In Illinois, 1 in 7 residents is at risk of going hungry today – 1 in 5 of those is a child. Many of these people are hardworking families who must decide between buying groceries or paying rent, going to the doctor or sending their kid to school with lunch money.

Those decisions become even more difficult at Thanksgiving, a time when food, family, and faith are intertwined. Sadly, hunger doesn’t take a holiday. That is why The Salvation Army works diligently at the holidays to feed as many neighbors in need as possible.

At our Red Shield Center in the Englewood neighborhood, The Cheesecake Factory provides, cooks, and serves a lovely, sit-down Thanksgiving meal for more than 500 people. “They love it,” says Captain Nikki Hughes, corps officer at the Red Shield Center. “I started receiving calls for reservations the first week of October. Part of what makes it so great is that it doesn’t feel like going through a line. People are seated and there are waiters, all of them Cheesecake Factory staff and their family members. Some people come all dressed up.”  

At the Freedom Center in West Humboldt Park, the Levy hospitality company cooks an entire Thanksgiving meal from scratch and helps feed more than 1,000 people in need, both at the Freedom Center and through the Army’s mobile feeding and homeless outreach vehicles. These meals mean so much to people who would otherwise go without – like George and his children.

“It’s really an incredible experience seeing the food you make bring a smile to someone’s face, and we’re thrilled to be able to give back in this way every year,” said Robin Rosenberg, Levy’s Vice President and Chef de Cuisine. “With so many families and so much love in the room, this is so much more than a meal."

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