Sunday marked an important milestone for Emmaus House of Hospitality in Lake Zurich.
It marked the end of its 14th year of the nonprofit group's providing community dinners at St. Francis de Sales Church for those struggling with poverty.
"And they said it wouldn't last. They said we would never be able to last four years. Ha ha," one of Emmaus House's directors, Laura Zickuhr, told the crowd of more than 200 people gathered to have a meal, as well as take home groceries that have been "harvested" from local grocers.
As if that wasn't big enough, the milestone was capped by a momentous event -- the delivery of about 480 slices of pizza by the Little Caesars Love Kitchen through an effort coordinated with the local Lions Club and the Little Caesars franchise at 450 S. Rand Road in Lake Zurich.
A big-rig pizza kitchen on wheels, the Little Caesars Love Kitchen travels across the U.S. and Canada, meeting the needs of the hungry, the homeless and disaster victims.
Tim Justice, who owns the Little Caesars franchise and whose father-in-law is with the Lions Club, said the Lake Zurich Lions provided the salad to go along with the pizza.
Justice said, "When they (the Love Kitchen) come in our area and let us know when they're going to be available, then we try and work within our community and see if we can join in with them."
"This is why tonight is such a big deal. Because the truck won't be in this area for two years," Zickuhr said.
Throughout the meal, one could hear numbers being called, as those dining were randomly summoned to the harvest room, the perishable food pantry that is stocked through the efforts of a team of "harvesters" who go out all week and pick up, at various grocers and stores.
"We store those foods in our commercial refrigeration for distribution on Sunday nights," Zickuhr said.
Those who receive assistance, Zickuhr said, are "folks who are living on the margin. Many of them come from the subsidized housing next door. We do not screen. People get the sense once they come here that this is for people who are in need. We don't judge."
In the harvest room, tables are stacked with food from such local stores as Jewel and Trader Joe's.
"They'll walk out of here with two, three bags of groceries. All of this would be in the dumpsters, if we didn't harvest it. Hundreds of thousands of dollars a year," Zickuhr said.
Among those taking part in the community dinner was Robin Brewer of Lake Zurich, who said she has been attending the dinner for some years.
"I consider myself kind of the working poor," she said, adding that her life has undergone severe changes on both personal and professional fronts, including changing from full-time to part-time employment as well as taking on the additional responsibility of caring for a granddaughter.
She said she has found a welcoming and accepting environment at Emmaus House. She added that the community dinner and the harvest room help her to use more of her income for such items as clothing for her children.