As the cold winds blew, buses carrying senior citizens from all over the West Side pulled up to the driveway of Collins Academy High School, 1313 S. Sacramento Dr.

Volunteers led them into the gym decorated with balloons the color of falling leaves and guided them toward the tables. Over the next few hours, they enjoyed freshly cooked food and plenty of entertainment.

Elected officials came up to the front to honor seniors and the many volunteers it took to put the event together. And toward the end, many of them walked away with prizes. One senior, 93-year-old Adele Polk, received a basket simply for being the oldest person there.

This pre-Thanksgiving Day luncheon took place on Nov. 19 at Collins. Cook County Commissioner Robert Steele (2nd) and the Greater Westside Community Coalition launched the annual event nine years ago. Illinois State Representative Arthur Turner (9th) and Ald. Michael Scott (24th) have also lent their support to the event over the years.

Dennis Deer, president of the Coalition’s board of directors, said that the program was started 15 years ago by Bobbie Steele, Robert’s mother and the previous 2nd District commissioner.

Before it became an annual event, Deer said, Steele and the Coalition would deliver Thanksgiving baskets to West Side senior citizens. Eventually, he said, the organizers decided to gather seniors together. The holidays can be rather lonely for seniors, Deer explained. The luncheon, he said, allows them the opportunity to enjoy food and each other’s company.

“We thought we’ll have this [event], and have them and love them,” Deer said.

Valerie Fuller, a teacher at the nearby Frazier Preparatory Academy K-8 charter school, said that her principal told her about the event and asked her to volunteer. She agreed, and she decided to bring one of her sons, Fredrick Henley, to volunteer along with her. 

“I try to teach my boys the right things,” Fuller said. “When an opportunity comes, I bring them. I think it’s important for them do give back, because they’re very blessed.”