One could argue that Elgin sets the bar in the suburbs for looking after its own.
It has soup kitchens, a homeless shelter, a crisis center, an addiction counseling center, a Boys & Girls Club, a school for kids with behavioral issues, an organization dedicated to giving people with developmental disabilities jobs, scores of churches. Too many organizations that aim to help people than can be listed here.
That’s not to suggest Elgin is defined by its challenges. It also is home to a symphony, several colleges, a world-class library, golf courses, a vibrant arts scene and some of the most gorgeous Victorian homes you can find anywhere.
It is, as its motto suggests, The City in the Suburbs.
We’ve always admired Elgin for its volunteer spirit, for its knack for and desire to overcome challenges. For the people in town who see something wrong and set out to fix it.
Take Jeff Turner, a downtown deli owner who five years ago decided to take over a long tradition of providing a free Thanksgiving dinner and fellowship to all comers when St. Joseph Catholic Church could no longer keep up its tradition.
Turner, armed with donations and a cadre of volunteers, served lunch to about 1,500 people last Thanksgiving in the basement of the city-owned Hemmens Cultural Center, which is home to the Elgin Symphony Orchestra.
Free use of the facility — and a donation of turkeys from Willow Creek Church in South Barrington — certainly made that dinner easier to pull off.
But this year Willow Creek won’t be delivering turkeys. And the city in July began charging rent to any group that wanted to use the Hemmens.
Turner said the rent would double his costs.
The city’s stance may seem too rigid. But then, every organization that has gotten a break on rent at the Hemmens contributes to the greater good. Mayor Dave Kaptain rightly pointed out that if he gave one group a pass, he couldn’t say no to the rest.
City fathers made the tough decision in a show of fiscal prudence in a year when new taxes were introduced. They’re responding to the wagging fingers from people still upset that the Centre of Elgin, the city’s grand fitness center, will forever be subsidized by the city. They were right to ensure that the Hemmens become more self-supporting.
But this is Elgin. And there is always another solution.
The Thanksgiving luncheon will be held at the First United Methodist Church on Highland Avenue, thanks to the church, which gave up its space for free.
Elgin may be big-hearted, but by no means is it alone. Despite stagnant wages and a tepid economy, suburbanites will still snatch names off Giving Trees in malls, Toys for Tots bins will fill up and community food pantries will get what they need to feed the hungry. The show will go on.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.