Hundreds help to get holiday meals on tables

400 to 500 volunteers deliver Mission's Thankgiving dinners


of the Journal Star

PEORIA For the 28th consecutive year, volunteers and staff gathered at the South Side Mission to prepare and deliver Thanksgiving dinners to Peoria-area residents who are shut-ins, elderly or disabled.

Dr. Pat Flaherty, the mission's executive director, estimated between 400 and 500 people volunteered to help out the approximately 20 staff members.

Volunteers started showing up as early as 6 a.m., and in two hours there were bunches of adults, teen-agers and senior citizens waiting for the meal delivery to begin at 9 a.m.

"On Thanksgiving, I'm so grateful for everything I have, I just wanted to make somebody else's Thanksgiving a little happier," said Charlene Walters.

Walters said she met with 20 people at her church, First United Methodist Church, at 8 a.m. to have a short prayer. Then they drove to the mission.

Jim Hickman and his wife, Karen Hickman, simply came to volunteer. "And do whatever we can to help," he said.

He said his wife volunteered to help in the kitchen. "We just wanted to be a part of that the whole thing down here," he said.

After a prayer by Flaherty, volunteers started taking meals out to the 1,400 people on the list.

"What I really want to do is thank the volunteers," Flaherty said. "We're just grateful for all of them."

Jill Kuhns and her daughters, Steffi and Katie, have been volunteering to deliver the meals on Thanksgiving for six or seven years, Jill Kuhns estimated.

"It's gotten to be a tradition," she said.

Jill Kuhns said she first heard the mission needed volunteers through a friend and showed up the first time with daughter Katie. "I thought it would be a good idea for her to see, to do something worthwhile," she said.

She finds it satisfying to talk to those receiving the meals and to make them smile. "Often, we're the only people they see during the day," she said.

Volunteer Alta Ulmer said she wanted to help register the volunteers "just for the warm feeling of so many other people sharing of themselves for others."

Ulmer said she's been volunteering for nine or 10 years. She also is a member of the mission's Ladies Auxiliary.

"To me, one of the biggest thrills is to see young couples with children and initiating them to remember others," she said.

Greg Pennington came with three children from the Christian Life Club at the Free Methodist Church in East Peoria.

"We came just because we wanted our kids to have a memorable experience on Thanksgiving," he said.

Mike Ogburn, who was volunteering while on duty as battalion chief at the Peoria Fire Department, said he has been at the mission with his family on Thanksgiving for 15 years and has helped with routing volunteer drivers for eight years.

Ogburn, Steve Stuckwisch, and Jerry Malone began gathering donations from other fire department workers and collected $950 to donate toward meals this year.

"We all felt we had a good job and wanted to give a little back to the community," he said.

Flaherty said planning for the event took about two months. To find those needing meals, he said, the mission receives lists of people from social service agencies and other services that don't deliver on Thanksgiving.

"Some people don't know about us," he said. "We have to reach out. That's one of our main things here."

He added that the mission needs more volunteers to deliver meals on Christmas Day, because usually only 160 people show up to help out.

If he got the same amount of volunteers at Christmas that the mission does at Thanksgiving, Flaherty said, there could be 1,200 people with a warm meal to eat on that day.

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