This year marks the 30th year that the Pekin Township has been serving Thanksgiving dinner to anyone who wanted a meal.
While usually served on Thanksgiving Day, dinner this year will be served from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 22, inside the Pekin Township building, at 420 Elizabeth St. The menu for the free Thanksgiving dinner is turkey and dressing, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, rolls and pumpkin pie.
For those who cannot get to the building, there is a home delivery option. To reserve a home delivery Thanksgiving meal, call 346-3194. The last day to call for home delivery is Monday, Nov. 20.
Deb Besco, program manager and general assistance coordinator at Pekin Township, said they get a lot of calls for home deliveries from people who are “shut-ins” and those who live at the UAW, Golden Arms Apartments and Court Place Apartments.
Various community groups help out with the dinner. For the last 23 years, Aramark cooks the frozen turkeys at their facility, and the Township picks them up to serve. Several classes from Pekin Community High School help by putting rolls and pumpkin pie slices into containers.
Pekin Township gets 25 turkeys to serve from both Schnucks and Kroger in Pekin. Last year, all the donations helped serve 300 individuals a hot Thanksgiving dinner.
“Without volunteers and donations we would not be able to do this,” said Janet Homerin, Pekin Township supervisor. “The Thanksgiving dinner is not paid for with tax dollars. Everybody who volunteers is such a help.”
Beginning in mid-October monetary donations start to arrive. From start to finish, there are about 30 volunteers who help make this community dinner possible.
“We are very fortunate that people start calling Nov. 1 to want to sign up to volunteer,” said Besco. “Some people get the meat off the turkeys for the day. Others want to drive to deliver meals to those who cannot get here, serve dinner or wash dishes. My own kids have loved to volunteer. It’s good to have kids start doing things like this early.”
Preparing the Thanksgiving meal is a labor of love. Shawna Erxleben, her husband Jason, their four children and her brother Shannan started their volunteering on Thanksgiving Day in 2009 at the Pekin Township building. Shawna Erxleben said that prior to that, the family usually had spent holidays at her mother’s house surrounded by family. When her mother passed away that year, the Erxlebens decided to serve Thanksgiving meals to others.
“It was more satisfying than I had expected,” said Erxleben. “It was really about connecting with people and hearing their stories. I remember one woman was there because her husband had passed away. She said she had no one to cook for this year and she was lonely. People come there for reasons other than financial need alone.”