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updated: 11/21/2010 2:17 PM

Villa Park VFW rallies to squeeze in 150 more for Thanksgiving dinner

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  • Baker Pedro Landa gets a loaf of bread at Kuppies Bakery in Villa Park. The bakery will be making 100 pounds of bread-and-sausage stuffing for the Villa Park VFW's Thanksgiving dinner for Navy recruits.

       Baker Pedro Landa gets a loaf of bread at Kuppies Bakery in Villa Park. The bakery will be making 100 pounds of bread-and-sausage stuffing for the Villa Park VFW's Thanksgiving dinner for Navy recruits.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Rye bread is prepared by Pedro Landa for a customer at Kuppies Bakery in Villa Park. The bakery is donating sweet rolls and doughnuts, dinner rolls, bread and stuffing to help feed 200 Navy recruits on Thanksgiving.

       Rye bread is prepared by Pedro Landa for a customer at Kuppies Bakery in Villa Park. The bakery is donating sweet rolls and doughnuts, dinner rolls, bread and stuffing to help feed 200 Navy recruits on Thanksgiving.
    Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
 

Cmdr. Dennis Geiseman didn't hesitate for a second.

Great Lakes Training Center wanted to know if the Villa Park VFW could host more Navy recruits than usual for Thanksgiving this year. Instead of 50 young men and women many still in their teens and away from home for the first time could Post 2801 possibly take 200?

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The VFW had just one month to put it all together.

Geiseman, a Marine who served in Vietnam, started rallying the community to pull off a Thanksgiving miracle.

Come Thursday morning, when the recruits will pile out of buses to be greeted with fresh doughnuts from a local bakery, all the elements of a home-cooked Thanksgiving feast including enough turkey and ham for leftovers will be in place.

"There are a whole lot of kids doing a whole lot of grown-up stuff out there, and we want to support them," said Dawn Hanrahan, owner of Kuppies Bakery in Villa Park.

On top of providing doughnuts and sweet rolls for the recruits' breakfast, the little bakery is making 100 pounds of sausage-and-bread stuffing.

"Thanksgiving is the best holiday of the year," Hanrahan said. "We just want them to feel at home."

This year, Great Lakes happens to have 1,250 recruits in boot camp during Thanksgiving week, a bigger number than in previous years. The Villa Park VFW and Gurnee Community Church in Gurnee are hosting the largest gatherings.

If the organizations didn't step up, the recruits with nowhere to go would have to spend Thanksgiving on base.

The young men and women coming to Villa Park will be picked up at 8:30 a.m. at the base. They'll spend the whole day at the post, using VFW members' cell phones to call home, sending e-mails from a bank of donated computers and playing Xbox and Wii games.

"If anybody in the community wants to come down and say hello and talk to them and bring their cell phones and let them call their families feel free to do so," Geiseman said.

"It's a wonderful time for people to be able to talk to these kids, absolutely wonderful."

The recruits will sit down for the Thanksgiving feast between 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. Sandwiches will be served before they leave to return to the base in the evening.

From big supermarket chains to the mom-and-pop businesses in town, the community's response has been overwhelming, Geiseman said.

With 200 recruits to feed, along with another 50 to 75 volunteers, Geiseman turned first to the Corner Bakery in Oak Brook.

The restaurant, which has partnered with the VFW in the past, agreed to provide 40 pounds of bread, 300 dinner rolls and all the salad, dressing, carrots and beans for 200.

Maggiano's Little Italy, also in Oak Brook, is providing 100 pounds of turkey breast and 200 pounds of mashed potatoes. The chef also agreed to cook another 25 turkeys donated by VFW members.

Rounding out the feast are hams from HoneyBaked Ham, Ultra Foods and Dominick's, sweet potatoes from Mr. Z Supermarket in Lombard and Boston Market, bread and rolls from Alpha Baking Co. and Turano Bakery, and pies from the Lions and Kiwanis clubs.

Other donors include KFC, Domino's Pizza, Walmart, Costco, Jewel Foods, Pepsi, Illinois Coffee Service and State Farm. The Odeum in Villa Park is providing hot boxes to keep the food warm.

Local families are bringing relish trays, nuts and other munchies to the post on Thanksgiving Day.

VFW members were worried about how to pay for the extra buses, but in the end, that worked out, too.

Davidsmeyer Bus Service in Elk Grove Village offered a generous discount, and the Rotary Club, Disabled American Veterans and Loyal Order of Moose helped cover the additional cost.

The recruits who will be celebrating Thanksgiving in Villa Park are in their final week of boot camp.

"They know joined the Navy to help out the country, but they also know that the communities are behind them and support them," Geiseman said. "Wherever their endeavors are, wherever they may go from this boot camp, they know that people care."

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