Free Thanksgiving dinners aren't just about helping the homeless or needy, according to Liz Eakins, executive director of Lazarus House.
"We see our Thanksgiving dinner as a way for the community to come together and be with their neighbors," Eakins said.
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Lazarus House, a charitable organization based in St. Charles, serves the homeless and those in danger of becoming homeless. It is one of several Fox Valley organizations serving a free Thanksgiving dinner on Thursday, and has done so yearly since it opened its doors in 1997.
"(The dinner) gets bigger every year -- we serve 300 to 400 people yearly. The numbers continue to grow," Eakins said.
At the Lazarus House dinner, which is served at the Tri-City Salvation Army, nobody is asked their financial status. Every guest is welcomed warmly.
"Nobody knows who is homeless and who isn't," Eakins said. "It's open to anyone who wants to come. We have a lot of people who come who don't have family in the area."
Guests are welcome to bring a side dish to pass, Eakins said, but it's not a requirement. Guests are asked to register in advance if possible, but walk-ins are welcome.
Eakins said the community has been very supportive of the tradition.
"For the past two weeks, we've had a lot of people donating turkeys. One local attorney donated 20 turkeys."
Eakins said all the turkeys will be cooked and carved by the Loyal Order of Moose.
"They'll be up at the crack of dawn cooking," she said. "They also make turkey gravy and stuffing. They'll bring the turkeys over right before we start serving at noon.
Once guests are seated, and after a welcome and prayer, local musicians will entertain.
But what about cleanup and leftovers?
"I'll bet we have at least 30 volunteers (doing cleanup)," Eakins said. "We always have a lot of leftovers; guests are welcome to bring some home. Some will come to Lazarus House. Sometimes if we get a lot, we donate them to police and fire departments."
The biggest challenge of the event, Eakins said, is getting people to come and enjoy, as so many want to volunteer.
"Everyone wants to serve," she said. "We've had to schedule people for 20-minute shifts to fit them all in. It's hard to get people to just fix themselves a plate and sit down."
The Lazarus House Thanksgiving dinner is from 11:30 to 2 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 22, at the Tri-City Salvation Army, 1710 S. Seventh Ave., St. Charles. Dining will begin at noon. There is no cost. Registration is not required, but appreciated by calling (630) 587-2144.
Other Thanksgiving dinners in the Fox Valley include:
Aurora: West Aurora and East Aurora high schools are the host locations for the second annual Community Thanksgiving Celebration on Wednesday, Nov. 21. Registered families will receive a free Thanksgiving meal and a chance to win a flat-screen TV, gift cards and a hotel stay. Register as a guest or volunteer by visiting www.goodsaminc.org/home/2012_thanksgiving_dinner; Main Baptist Church, 808 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora; Aurora Township, 313 Gale St., Aurora; or by calling (630) 301-6911. The registration deadline is Monday, Nov. 19. Dinner seating options are 2 to 4 p.m. or 5 to 7 p.m. at either West High, 1201 W. New York St., Aurora, or East Aurora High School, 500 Tomcat Lane, Aurora. Both times are available at both locations.
Batavia: The Batavia United Methodist Church invites members of the community to an old fashioned Thanksgiving Day dinner from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday at the church, 8 N. Batavia Ave. Use the church's Water Street entrance. All are welcome to enjoy the food and fellowship. If you need a ride, contact the church office (630-879-7060).
East Dundee: Beverardo Sanchez, the owner of the Family Buffet restaurant, is working with the Elgin Evangelical Covenant Church to provide 1,000 dinners on Thanksgiving to needy families. Sanchez's restaurant, at 520 Dundee Ave., seats 150 people. The dinners will be served from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. To donate food or time, call (847) 888-2302 or call Sanchez at (847) 836-6887. Reservations, due by Wednesday, Nov. 21, can be made by calling the restaurant. No meals will be delivered and dessert will not be included.
Elgin: A community Thanksgiving dinner is set for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Thursday at First United Methodist Church, 216 E. Highland Ave. About 1,200 guests will be served. Volunteer shifts are available, and donations are welcome. Call (847) 888-9486 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Cash donations will be accepted at In the Neighborhood Deli, 185 N. Edison Ave. Checks should be made payable to "Elgin Community Network" with "Thanksgiving dinner" in the memo line. Dessert donations will be accepted 2 to 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 21, at In the Neighborhood Deli or 8 to 11 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 22, at First United Methodist Church.