Scores turn out for Thanksgiving meals

Community generosity, volunteer spirit rises to meet increased need at annual HCS event

Cars wrapped around the corner of Maple and Washington streets early Saturday morning, then further back on Hinsdale Avenue all the way to Garfield Avenue, queued up to receive a Thanksgiving dinner kit from HCS Family Services.

So many cars so early that Amy Wickstrom, executive director of HCS, moved up the distribution start time for traffic safety.

"We were almost around the whole block. I was like, 'We've got to go!' " she said.

The lengthening line illustrated how the level of need has grown this year. The nonprofit agency typically gives way about 150 Thanksgiving meals each year. This season they prepared for double the demand.

"What was keeping me up in the middle of the night was turkeys - 'Where are we going to find 300 and some turkeys!' "

A source was found, and the community came through with donations of side dishes to complete the feasts. As cars pulled into the circle drive by the Hinsdale Public Library, volunteers mobilized the goods for contactless placement into trunks and backseats.

Hinsdale residents David and Jeanne Witz were moved to help load after seeing the turnout at the weekly HCS food pantry.

"I've lived in Hinsdale my whole life and never knew this existed. We walked by here last week and saw the line of cars," David said. "My wife and I both try to think globally and act locally, so we picked up the phone and asked how we could get involved."

Wickstrom said the circle drive is a logistical blessing for the operation. She lamented the library's closure last week in response to Tier 3 mitigations while acknowledging it made for a clearer path.

"(The library has) been very generous to limit their hours of curbside pickup for when the pantry's coming through, so it really is a collaboration," she said of HCS' neighbor.

In addition to a receiving a turkey, pantry patrons also took home a grocery bag filled with trimmings such as stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes, gravy and more.

Wickstrom said groups like the Hinsdale South Hockey Club and the HCS Junior Board were important sources of inventory.

"The Junior Board held a team competition for who could bring in the most poundage. The winning team brought in like 600 or 700 pounds," she reported.

Another two dozen or so smaller food drives sponsored by community members also boosted the supply.

"Which has just been tremendous," Wickstrom remarked.

Hinsdale Central junior Sam Romberger shuttled items from the staging area inside to the curb along with several of his Central hockey club teammates. Romberger said serving provides them fellowship time while sports are suspended as they help provide for others.

"It's good to get together with the team a do something," he said. "I know the people definitely appreciate it, and it feels good to be able to give back to them."

Wickstrom said the number of indoor volunteers was limited in observance of COVID-19 safety guidelines. She noted the joyful spirit evident despite tough circumstances for many.

"Everyone's so happy to be here, so friendly," she said, estimating about 175 meals would be distributed that morning.

Later the operation would shift to the pantry at Anne M. Jeans School in Willowbrook. Additional distributions were planned for Monday at both locations as part of the weekly pantry operations.

Bob Lassandrello, chair of the HCS board of directors, said so many are just trying to keep afloat after being blindsided by the pandemic. Those able to help answered the call.

"The generosity of the community has been amazing," he said. "Seeing the food being distributed is just a great thing. This has been a good day."

David Witz said the extent of the need has recalibrated his approach to philanthropy.

"I was just kind of blown away by the magnitude of it all," he said. "It's easy to give money, it's more important to give your time.

"It's always good to give back."

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean