'We are grateful': Families receive Thanksgiving meals in Palatine
Christmas music played in the background as cars drove through with kids extending their arms, laughing, to be handed Thanksgiving dinners, backpacks, candy and toys Thursday night in Palatine.
The line to get into the parking lot of the nonprofit agency Partners for Our Communities was at least 35 cars deep, as local families drove by to pick up donations as part of the "Uniting for the Holidays" program from United Way of Metro Chicago.
Volunteers included Kathy Millin, executive director of the Palatine nonprofit, who handed a 15-pound turkey to 4-year-old Giselle Sanchez through the back window of the family's van.
Lolita Bernal of Palatine came with her children Jessica Gomez, 14, and Jesus, 10. "We are grateful," Jessica said.
The event in Palatine was one of six across the suburbs scheduled this year for Uniting for the Holidays. The others are in Des Plaines, where it took place Wednesday, plus Chicago Heights/Ford Heights on Dec. 10, Blue Island/Robbins on Dec. 11, Elgin on Dec. 15 and West Chicago on Dec. 16.
The program is distributing a total 3,000 individual meals and boxes: 500 Thanksgiving meals each in Des Plaines and Palatine, and 500 holiday food boxes each in Elgin, West Chicago, Blue Island/Robbins and, Chicago Heights/Ford Heights, said United Way of Metro Chicago President and CEO Sean Garrett.
The Thanksgiving meals include turkey, green bean casserole, stuffing and cornbread. The holiday food boxes have frozen turkey, potatoes and more items to make a holiday meal, including dessert.
United Way of Metro Chicago worked with its local community partners, like Partners for Our Communities in Palatine, who identified families that could benefit from the donation, Garrett said.
"This year, given all the things that are happening in the world, all the challenges that we are facing, instead of having the traditional in-person event, we are doing it more drive-through style through six locations across the suburbs," he said.
"Across the region there are families that were struggling financially before the pandemic, and now they are struggling even more."
In 2017, 1.75 million households in Illinois, or 36%, could not afford basic needs such as housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, and technology, according to a 2019 report from the United for Alice project. "Alice" stands for "asset limited, income constrained, employed," meaning families with income above the federal poverty level but not high enough to afford basic household necessities or save for the future.
This year's Uniting for the Holidays is larger than in previous years, and United Way of Metro Chicago worked with its corporate and financial partners to make it happen, Garrett said.
"It's a significant commitment that's going to be over $200,000," he said. "We will spend that on the items and things associated with the actual event, but then it also helps fund ongoing support. Anything additional will be used to support families all across the region."
"This is a small step, but it's a hope that being the holidays during what has been a complex 2020 ... that it will bring a little bit of help and help make the holidays a little bit more joyful."