‘Feeling very grateful’: Hundreds gather to share Thanksgiving dinner at Salvation Army

The sit-down meal for 700 was the first the Salvation Army has offered in-house since the start of the pandemic. Another 2,300 to-go meals, prepared by Levy Restaurants, were also distributed.

SHARE ‘Feeling very grateful’: Hundreds gather to share Thanksgiving dinner at Salvation Army
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Volunteer Saran Singh, 16, prepares a Thanksgiving plate at the Salvation Army Freedom Center in Humboldt Park. Turkey and sides were served to 700 guests in the first in-house gathering since before the pandemic.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Hundreds gathered for a free Thanksgiving meal on Thursday morning at the Salvation Army Freedom Center in Humboldt Park.

The sit-down meal, which was open to anyone, was the first one the Salvation Army has been able to host in-house since before the start of the pandemic. For the last three years, the organization has only been able to hand out to-go Thanksgiving dinners.

“It’s exciting. I’m so happy to see everyone come together. And everyone is excited to eat,” said Nikki Hughes, a captain with the Salvation Army and one of the organizers of the event.

The meal was standard Thanksgiving fare — turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie — handed out by volunteers. The Salvation Army gave out 700 hot meals and 2,300 to-go meals, which were prepared by Levy Restaurants.

“It’s healthy for people to come together, to share in people’s happiness and joy,” Hughes said. “The holidays can be sad and hard for some, so it’s important to come together and be with people.”

Some of the families enjoying the meal were recent migrants from Venezuela. Luis Torcates, Getzabet Chavez and their 6-year-old daughter, Hally, have been in Chicago for one month. This was their first time having a Thanksgiving dinner.

“The food is very tasty,” Torcates said in Spanish. “We are so grateful for everything.”

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Joselyn Ochoa, 31, from Venezuela, eats with her family while holding 4-month-old Javierliz Ochoa.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Renard Jackson stopped by for some food on Thursday morning. He’s been in recovery at the Salvation Army’s rehabilitation center for substance abuse, and he celebrated one year of sobriety the day before the holiday.

“I’m feeling very grateful today. We move so fast in life that we don’t stop or slow down to be grateful and thankful,” Jackson said.

He also enjoyed the chance to share a meal with friends and appreciated the service from the volunteers handing out food and drinks.

“They make you feel special. I really feel the love,” Jackson said. “It’s a beautiful thing to come together like this.”

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Nikki Hughes, a captain with the Salvation Army, greets a guest Thursday. “I’m so happy to see everyone come together. And everyone is excited to eat.”

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Many who were volunteering were doing so for the first time, including Roberta Marrion, who came to volunteer with her husband, Jim, and her brother, Frances Staskon.

Rather than having a big family dinner, the three decided that helping out at the Salvation Army was a better way to spend the day.

“It’s been wonderful and so rewarding,” Roberta Marrion said. “It’s important that when you’re blessed, you give back.”

Derrick Andrews was also a first-time volunteer, but he plans to make it a regular part of his Thanksgiving going forward. Now that his two daughters are grown, he wants to do more volunteering, starting with serving Thursday’s meal at the Salvation Army.

“I’m so glad I came out to help, I already asked about helping out at Christmas,” Andrews said. “It’s a very special thing to help make someone’s day better.”

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First-time volunteer Derrick Andrews serves drinks. He looks forward to helping out at Christmas.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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