Annual Elgin community Thanksgiving Day dinner canceled due to pandemic
After trying to find a way to adjust for the pandemic, organizers of Elgin's annual Thanksgiving Day community dinner decided there was no safe way forward and have opted to cancel.
"It was a really, really tough decision," said organizer Jeff Turner of Elgin. "We've done it for so many years and there are so many people who count on these meals, not just the homeless but families (for whom) this is a tradition.
"But when I looked at everything and thought about it, it's just not worth putting anyone at risk," Turner said. "Politics aside, the fact is the numbers are rising and I know people who have passed away from it. It's no joke."
Turner and the Together We're Elgin group have been holding the dinner for 12 years. Last year they served more than 1,300 people in person and then donated enough leftover food to serve a few hundred more.
The group had initially thought about pivoting to a drive-through and walk-up model this year, but the recent tightening of state rules regarding the number of people in one place made it impractical, Turner said. "We would have had to set up multiple kitchens to keep the number of volunteers that were cooking down, and then we would have needed more volunteers to pass everything out than would have been allowed."
"The most difficult part of this decision is knowing some may go without this holiday," Turner said. "It breaks our hearts. However, the risk of life-threatening illness is just too great to ignore."
Turner said nothing will go to waste. The turkeys, which are donated by Food for Friends, a Chicago-based Christian ministry, will now go to other groups. Other nonperishable food will be used at a future event. Turner helps organize five or six community dinners throughout the year and said is he still planning to hold the Christmas dinner Dec. 19. He'll make a final decision on that in an early December.
And while one tradition for his family and the community is put on hold, he said there is a bright side.
"For the first time in 13 years, I will be home cooking with my wife and kids."