Braving both the frigid weather and her problematic bouts of asthma, Lela Durham stood outside Circle Urban Ministries Austin food pantry for nearly 40 minutes for a free turkey.
Durham, along with nearly 300 other shivering patrons blowing clouds of frost participated in the church’s annual Thanksgiving turkey give-away last Saturday at the church, 118 N. Central. Volunteers distributed turkeys, canned yams and vegetables to residents for about four hours during the morning-to-afternoon event.
“I found out about [the give-away] through my friend and I knew I had to come,” said Durham. “With heating costs and property taxes, money has been very tight lately. I am thankful that the church is holding this event.”
The 62-year-old, mother of three and grandmother of 11 said the family generally comes to her house for Thanksgiving where she prepares the main dinner while they bring other dishes. Although Circle will alleviate one burden on her holidays, she admits that other sacrifices will need to be made. “I told them there will be no Christmas shopping on my part this year. So I hope that this dinner will carry through the entire holiday season,” she joked.
While Durham and other patrons were giving thanks to the volunteers for the giveaway, a 25-year tradition for Circle, this year’s event almost didn’t happen. The church’s usual donor told them late summer that it wouldn’t be able to provide turkeys this year.
“We were obviously concerned when our donor backed out in August but we were still optimistic that we could still pull this event together,” said Bob Mead, development director of the church.
An affiliate church, Covenant New Life, based in Grand Haven, Mich. stepped up in September and offered to provide turkeys for the giveaway.
“We were pretty excited and planning went on from there,” said Mead.
Covenant New Life also sent 38 congregation members and volunteers to Chicago for the event. The group stocked the turkeys in a refrigerator the size of a trailer and drove into the city Friday night. The volunteers not only provided turkeys and other food, but also helped elderly patrons with their bags and provided hot chocolate for those waiting in line. They gave special attention to the disabled, making the vestibule of the church more accessible given the large crowd.
“When we found out about their regular donor backing out we essentially challenged our church to assist us in making this event happen,” said Ron Oele, organizing director for Covenant Life Church, explaining how this year’s giveaway is even more significant.
“We knew that putting this together would be especially important this year due to the economy and the mass layoffs,” he said. “It’s hard to have a nice holiday when you are faced with bills and foreclosures. We just wanted to do what we could to provide some relief to families who are still trying to make their holiday as festive as they can be.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Circle Volunteer Coordinator Alicia Douglas who also runs the weekly food pantry at the church.
“There have been so many layoffs this year that the number of clients served at the food pantry has steadily been on the rise,” said Douglas, referring to the Wednesday morning breakfast kitchen the church holds to feed patrons, sponsored by the Great Chicago Food Depository.
“I have spoken with people who were fired from jobs where they commanded six-figure salaries and never thought they would be in a line waiting for food, but sometimes things happen. That’s why it is so important to be thankful for everything because things change so rapidly.”