Peyton Manning Packs the Pier at The Salvation Army’s Annual Civic Luncheon

May 17, 2023

The Salvation Army North and Central Illinois Division held its annual Civic Luncheon on May 11th, and it was the event of the year. Held in Navy Pier’s Aon Grand Ballroom, more than 800 guests packed the Pier for food, fun, and fellowship.

The annual event celebrates The Salvation Army’s programs and honors the prestigious William Booth Award and ‘Others’ Award recipients. Honorees are recognized because they exemplify the spirit of Salvation Army founder William Booth by putting others first.

This year, the William Booth Award went to bakery barons and philanthropists Paul and Joan Rubschlager. Nicor Gas received the ‘Others’ Award for their collaborative work with The Salvation Army helping struggling families pay their utility bills.

Longtime NBC5 reporter Phil Rogers was the Civic Luncheon emcee and eloquently walked everyone through the event, often interjecting his connection to The Salvation Army, its officers, and programs. It was a wonderful day with Phil at the helm as he has since retired from broadcasting and wanted to continue his relationship with The Salvation Army.

The highlight of the luncheon was the moderated interview with legendary Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. Manning, a two-time Super Bowl Champion and five-time NFL MVP, discussed his career, leadership, philanthropy, The Salvation Army, and his larger-than-life persona. Chicago Area Commander Major Caleb Senn conducted the nearly 30-minute interview.

“I’d like to commend all of you for being here today; you’re supporting a great organization,” Manning said during the event. “I’ve been part of several Salvation Army events throughout my life in Louisiana, Tennessee, Indiana, Colorado, and now here in Chicago. It’s a first-class organization. I think when we’re supporting causes, we want to know if our support is actually making an impact, is it truly getting to the people that need it? All the different programs that The Salvation Army supports, I can assure you, it is.

“Keep thinking about the things you’re passionate about, things you really care about. You can give your time – that’s good, give your money – that’s great, give both if you can – that’s really the ultimate. You truly can make a difference, and I can assure you all of you are going to make a difference in all the programs The Salvation Army supports.”

Before taking the stage, Peyton spent time with VIPs, taking pictures and discussing why he was joining them for the day. It was a memorable experience for those that were able to spend a little personal time with one of the greatest players in NFL history.

When Walt Whitman’s Soul Children of Chicago Choir took the stage, they had attendees dancing in their seats. Walt Whitman’s Soul Children of Chicago Choir is the nation’s oldest internationally acclaimed Grammy award-winning youth gospel choir. They’ve toured the world since 1981 and have exposed millions to a diverse repertoire of gospel music. That’s exactly what happened Thursday as the Choir joined The Salvation Army Chicago Staff Band to entertain guests as they enjoyed lunch.

Another highlight of the day was the testimonial of Lee Langham, a young man that grew up on the south side of Chicago – where the thought of going outside to play was out of the question. The fear of gangs and gunfire was a constant for Lee until he learned about Salvation Army’s Wonderland Camp in Wisconsin. Lee talked about overcoming obstacles and how his perseverance has led to his current position as the Assistant Director at Wonderland Camp.

“When I got to Camp, it changed my life because I got to see a lot of the kids that were from my neighborhood get to play outside. Where we grew up, we couldn’t play outside because of all the gunshots and how violent it was – senseless shootings,” Langham said during his testimonial. “And so, seeing those kids made me think differently. They were able to see a lot of green, a lot of trees.

“I have never known a person that didn’t look like me, care about kids that look like me so much before. The leader I saw (Wonderland Camp Director Zac Smith) be, was whom I wanted to be. Camp saved my life.”

Presenting sponsor Jewel-Osco, gave The Salvation Army a check for more than $420,000, thanks to their February register donation event. The money raised will help thousands of families across the region all year. Jewel-Osco Senior Vice President and Salvation Army Chicago Advisory Board member Shawn Porter along with Jewel-Osco mascot JoJo handed the giant check to Major Senn to thunderous applause.

That money will help more than ever as people across Illinois struggle with the ongoing impacts of inflation, the pandemic, and interest rate hikes. The number of food-insecure households in Illinois has doubled since the start of the pandemic, and worse, food insecurity has tripled for families with children.

The Civic Luncheon is our largest single fundraising event of the year. It helps fund the more than fifty programs like food banks, mobile feeding, and dozens of other programs The Salvation Army operates across the city.

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