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Delivering free Thanksgiving meals amid pandemic offers glimpse of ‘what hardship looks like’

Making sure people have a warm meal leading up to Thanksgiving has always been a tough task, but the lingering pandemic that has triggered economic hardships has made the work even more difficult.

Maria Cwiklik, center, receives meals from Michelle Thomas, The Night Ministry’s youth outreach case manager, left, and Candace Musick, The Night Ministry’s youth development manager, on Wednesday outside Cwiklik’s apartment in the South Austin neighborhood. The Night Ministry, an organization that provides housing and health care, donated meals ahead of Thanksgiving.
Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Rain fell on Maria Cwiklik as she waited outside her Austin apartment Wednesday afternoon for two women to bring her something her family needed — a warm meal.

“Everybody is struggling, and this is a lot of help for me,” Cwiklik said. “I can’t buy any food right now so this is a lot of help, you know; this is what hardship looks like.”

Cwiklik was waiting for her old friends Candace Musick and Michelle Thomas, who were delivering six Thanksgiving meals just before the holiday — already cooked and individually packaged.

Both Musick and Thomas work with The Night Ministry, a social-service organization that, among other things, provides housing for young people. Wednesday, they were delivering almost 40 meals donated by the National Runaway Safeline and Cubs Charities to those who used to be residents in their shelter, which is how Cwiklik knows the two. The meals were prepared by Smoke Daddy Wrigleyville.

Making sure people have a warm meal in the days leading up to Thanksgiving has always been a tough task, but a lingering pandemic that has triggered economic hardships has made that work even more difficult.

The line for food stretched around the block at the Barreto Boys and Girls Club, 1214 N. Washtenaw Ave., Wednesday afternoon. The giveaway was supposed to run from 1 to 5 p.m., but all the meals were gone within two hours.

Free Thanksgiving meals were handed out at Barreto Boys and Girls Club, 1214 N. Washtenaw Ave., Wednesday afternoon.
Free Thanksgiving meals were handed out at Barreto Boys and Girls Club, 1214 N. Washtenaw Ave., Wednesday afternoon.
Provided by Jordan Merrick

“We do this annually, and we tend to serve about 400 people in the community, but this year with COVID-19, everything has changed.” said Jeremy Murphy, senior director of the club. “We actually gave out 552 meals in less than two hours; we broke our record. Last year we only did 432.”

Murphy said meals were provided and packaged by the West Town Bikes and Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos High School.

“It speaks to the need of the families because right now they are struggling to find food due to the high unemployment rates,” Murphy said. “Prior to COVID-19 you still had those challenges, but this has shown me those challenges have heightened.”

Murphy said the high demand has moved him to distribute 50 more meals to those experiencing homelessness Thursday.

“Just being able to provide these meals and wanting to put a smile on people’s faces is what I’m grateful for,” Murphy said.

There are several free Thanksgiving food giveaways happening Thursday. Here are some places where people can go:

  • Shepherd’s Hope, 838 W. Marquette Rd., 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Kitchfix, 1731 W. Grand Ave., 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Claretian Associates Partners 4 Peace, 3039 E. 91st St., 11 a.m.
  • Claretian Associates Partners 4 Peace, 7900 S. Colfax Ave., 2 p.m.
  • Claretian Associates Partners 4 Peace, 8800 S. Burley Ave., 2 p.m.
  • Claretian Associates Partners 4 Peace, 10600 S. Bensley Ave., 2 p.m.
  • Ombudsman Educational Services, 303 W. 79th St., 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Ombudsman Educational Services, 7122 S. Vincennes Ave. 2 to 4 p.m.
Staff and volunteers with Barreto Boys and Girls Club, 1214 N. Washtenaw Ave., Wednesday afternoon after handing out 552 Thanksgiving meals.
Staff and volunteers with Barreto Boys and Girls Club, 1214 N. Washtenaw Ave., Wednesday afternoon after handing out 552 Thanksgiving meals.
Provided by Jordan Merrick