The 17th Annual Food for the Body & Spirit Thanksgiving Program sponsored by the Black McDonald’s Operators Association of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana ended Saturday in Austin with 2,000 turkeys distributed over four days.

The event was just one of several that planned during the days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday on Nov. 24.

Last Saturday, Corinthian Temple Church of God in Christ, 4520 W. Washington Blvd., held an early Thanksgiving dinner for more than 100 community members.

And that same day, the Greater Westside Community Coalition and Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele (2nd) hosted a dinner for hundreds at Collins Academy High School, 1313 S. Sacramento Dr.

Residents began arriving at McDonald’s, 5015 W. Madison St., at 6 a.m. for the Food for the Body & Spirit event even though it was not scheduled to start until 8 a.m.

Maurice Brown, an Austin resident, was first in line and among 1,000 people who braved the cold temperatures to receive a free turkey and gift bag filled with other food items.

“I got here earlier because I wanted to make sure I get a turkey for Thanksgiving. Soon after I arrived more people started showing up but I was the first on the scene,” said Brown. “Coming here is nothing new for me. I always come to their (McDonald’s) turkey giveaways. It means a lot to me to know that black business owners are willing to give back to the community.”

Leann Porter, a 59-year-old North Lawndale resident, was the second person in line after arriving also at 5 a.m.

“I got here early because usually when someone is giving away something free it will be a large crowd,” said Porter, who added she drinks coffee at McDonald’s every day. “McDonald’s has been a friend to us ‘west siders’ for a long time and that’s a good thing.”

Ron Lofton owns a McDonald’s restaurant in Austin and is the only black, McDonald’s franchise owner on the West Side.

“Giving back to the black community means everything to me because without them I would not exist,” explained Lofton. “McDonald’s provides jobs to the community and pays taxes that benefit the local infrastructure and that helps make the community stronger.”

While the BMOA held three giveaways on the South Side and one only on the West Side, Lofton said he expects that to change next year.

“I fought hard to have a giveaway on the West Side and moving forward I expect us to do more giveaways on the West Side,” added Lofton.

Former Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte helped distribute turkeys for the BMOA Friday in the Auburn Gresham neighborhood on the South Side along with the Chicago chapter of the NAACP, while radio personality Ramon “Ramonski Luv” Wade from V-103 broadcasted live from the West Side.

“This is what it is all about people. Helping one another out during difficult times,” Wade told the crowd that stretched two blocks. “Look to someone, give them a hug and let them know they are loved.”