For one single mom living in Forest Park, it’s tough to put any food on the table each night, let alone a feast such as Thanksgiving.
But thanks to food donations at the Howard Mohr Community Center, this mom can celebrate the holiday with her family and enjoy a grand meal with all the traditional fixings.
Volunteers with the Forest Park Food Pantry will be busy today delivering Thanksgiving meals door-to-door to approximately 150 needy families in the village.
The crew started on Monday packing up large boxes and filling them with food, including sweet potatoes, stuffing, pies, fresh rolls – and even a whole turkey.
“They are amazing,” said a recipient, who asked not to be indentified, of the boxed meals. “They always come with everything you could want for Thanksgiving dinner.”
Last year was the first time this woman received a food box. Since she was divorced two years ago, the Forest Park resident said she has been struggling financially. She works two jobs to help care for her 9-year-old daughter, and she doesn’t receive any child support.
“It’s hard to feed my kid what I want every night,” she said. “If you don’t have enough money, it really, really, really helps. It really makes your house feel like its Thanksgiving. That’s a good feeling for everyone.”
Delivering the holiday meals is a tradition that has carried on for at least 25 years at the Community Center. But since the recession began two years ago, the demand has never been higher.
“The last two years have jumped up considerably,” said Mike Nutley, manager at Ed’s Way Food Mart, which collects food donations all year long. “It’s just rough out there for people.”
When the Community Center first started purchasing turkeys from Ed’s Way about 15 years ago, they usually bought around 40 birds. While that number has been increasing since then, it soared the past two years to roughly 150 turkeys.
“Times are tough,” he said. But “all in all, the people in the neighborhood really contributed and put the food in those baskets all year long.”
Karen Dylewski, director of the Community Center, said she is blown away by the generosity of residents who make donations and dedicate time to this event.
“It’s a good feeling,” she said. “It’s not me, it’s everybody. The best feeling is that the community and residents come together and make it happen. None of it could ever happen without them.”
Just on Monday, Dylewski said one man walked into the Community Center and donated $1,000 on behalf of his deceased sister, Susan Bale, who was a second grade teacher at Betsy Ross Elementary school.
“He just came in and said, ‘She would want me to do this,'” Dylewski said. “She’s gone, and she’s still giving.”
Another Forest Park resident, Rose Krogh, has been volunteering with the Food Pantry for six years. Last year she went door-to-door passing out shopping bags to collect more food donations. The response was “so overwhelming,” that she did it again this year.
“Just to see that participation was something I’ll never forget,” she said. “It was inspiring.”
The single mother, who will be sharing this Thanksgiving with her mom and daughter, said she cannot express the gratitude she feels for everyone who has pitched in and helped her family through the tough times.
“I have literally cried my eyes out,” she said. “If there’s anything that you need, they will make it happen.”