Elgin resident Julie Diaz sat down to enjoy the annual Community Thanksgiving Dinner at First United Methodist Church on Thursday.
“The first time I came was last year, and I liked it, so I came out again this year,” she said.
Diaz was one of more than 1,000 people being served by volunteers coordinated by Jeff Turner, the owner of In the Neighborhood Deli. Turner has organized the community meal for Thanksgiving the past nine years.
Diaz said it’s nice to see a show of support for those in need at this time of year.
“I’m surprised there’s more people here this year than last year,” she said. “I’m glad that I feel like we’re all a family here. It feels nice. It’s a good environment.”
Noting the dozens of volunteers and their service to the community, Diaz said she appreciates everything they’ve done.
“The volunteers, they took time out of their day to come in, and that really makes me feel good that they’re here serving us and by the people that cooked,” she said. “I get to spend time with my family, too, at the same. It’s a great atmosphere.”
Turner said getting the community together for a Thanksgiving meal is important.
“It’s all about community and bringing everything together,” he said. “Anyone—from single moms, empty-nesters, homeless, middle class—I mean it’s just a time for everybody to come and get together and share a meal. Rich or poor, it’s doesn’t matter. It’s just for everybody.”
Throughout the course of the day, Turner said he expected to see close to 200 volunteers pitching in at the event.
“They all sit down and share the meal as well,” he said. “So, they’re part of our family that sits down and enjoys as well.”
Deborah McCarley, of Elgin, was mingling among some of her friends at the dinner. She said it’s nice to see the way the community has responded to help those in need.
“It shows that the community still cares about all the people that are less fortunate,” McCarley said.
This year was McCarley’s third time attending the Community Thanksgiving Dinner.
McCarley said she couldn’t have dinner at home this year, so she decided to drop in.
“I just got off the streets almost a year ago,” she said. “I came also to visit all my homeless friends.”
Thomas Roulds, of Elgin, was greeting diners as they entered the church basement. He said being able to giveback to those in need is important to him.
“At one point, I was homeless… when I first came here, until I found a place,” Roulds said.
Roulds said he appreciates everything the city of Elgin has done to help him.
This year was Roulds’ second time serving as a volunteer at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner.
“This is one of my ways of paying back to the community,” he said.