The sun hadn’t yet risen over the Chicago skyline. The sounds of morning traffic were a mere whisper compared to the roars that would fill the city streets in just an hour or two.

But it was already a bustling scene inside the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s warehouse on the Friday before Thanksgiving. Even with an earlier-than-usual start time for members of the transportation team – the work day began at 5 a.m. to handle special orders leading up to the holidays – they didn’t miss a beat loading their fleet of trucks on a chilly, late November morning.

Food Depository truck helper Steve Castro wraps a pallet of potatoes before it goes onto a distribution truck. The potatoes were some of the Thanksgiving food delivered as part of the Food Depository's holiday distributions.

Food Depository truck helper Steve Castro wraps a pallet of potatoes before it goes onto a distribution truck. The potatoes were some of the Thanksgiving food delivered as part of the Food Depository’s holiday distributions.

Many of those trucks were being filled with stacks of food fit for a traditional Thanksgiving meal: corn, green beans, potatoes, and – of course – dozens of boxes of turkey.

These items were a part of about 500,000 pounds of turkeys, hams, chickens, fresh potatoes and sides that the Food Depository delivered this November to help families facing hunger in Cook County enjoy a holiday meal. In December, we plan to distribute another 250,000 pounds of holiday food. Altogether, this equals to approximately 625,000 meals for community members in need this season.

Truck driver Antoine Lacy moves dozens of turkeys into a Food Depository delivery truck.

“For the holidays, a lot of people don’t have the funds to buy all of this,” said Oskar Cerda, a Food Depository driver, as he finished loading the final pallets onto his truck. The Chicago native has been delivering food to our network of partner agencies and programs for the last seven years.

It’s all in day’s work for Cerda. But each time he goes out, he knows the partners who provide the meals are glad to see the green truck.

Food Depository truck driver Oskar Cerda pushes food onto his truck for a holiday distribution.

“Every year, I feel very happy that they’re getting food from us,” Cerda said.

Daylight slowly rolled in as Cerda made the 20-minute trip south to the Beautiful Zion Mission Baptist Church in West Englewood. He and truck helper Steve Castro, with help from the church’s volunteers and staff, unloaded canned corn, green beans and yams, as well as bags of fresh potatoes and bread.

Food Depository staff Oskar Cerda and Steve Castro unload their truck of Thanksgiving food

Oskar Cerda and Steve Castro unload their truck of Thanksgiving food to Beautiful Zion church in West Englewood.

Beautiful Zion’s Thanksgiving event, which is organized by the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority’s Monarch Awards Foundation, offers visitors food, clothes and other resources.

To honor the event’s 15th year, organizers planned to give away 1,500 turkeys – the largest Thanksgiving turkey distribution in the Food Depository’s network of agencies in Cook County.

The stage was nearly set for the big day.

A volunteer at the Beautiful Zion Baptist Church helps organize a delivery of yams for the annual Thanksgiving distribution

Church volunteer Isaac Potts helped unload the Thanksgiving trimmings for Beautiful Zion Missionary Baptist Church’s 15th annual holiday distribution.

 

Serving with a smile

In the wee hours of the Saturday morning before Thanksgiving, the line began forming and, by 9 a.m., it wrapped around the block.

The exterior of Beautiful Zion Missionary Baptist Church

Beautiful Zion Missionary Baptist Church during its annual holiday distribution the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

Yolanda Green had been in the line since midnight, she said. She endured the lengthy wait for the opportunity to receive the food and, even more important to her, toys and other Christmas items for her three children, including her 3-year-old who has epilepsy and autism.

“This is a great service for the community,” said Green, 35. “There’s a great need.”

Inside the church, volunteers bustled about in preparation for opening the doors. Beyond the turkeys and sides, there was a bounty of other food, including fresh milk and bread. Volunteers organized tables of shoes, clothes, toys and other household items. Flu shots and voter registration were also offered.

Fifteen years ago, Alpha Kappa Alpha gave away 90 bags of food at its Thanksgiving distribution at Beautiful Zion. Over the years, it has steadily scaled up its offerings by partnering with more corporate sponsors.

“It just touches your heart when you come out here every year and you see the people standing in line in the cold with their children and with their families. And you know that you can play a small part to touch a life and make a difference.”

–  Patricia Smith, president of the Monarch Awards Foundation

Beyond the 1,500 turkeys, they also were giving away 1,500 grocery bags full of food – most of it received from the Food Depository.

Beautiful Zion distributed 1,500 turkeys, along with other groceries and holiday goods, at its 15th annual Thanksgiving distribution.

“It just touches your heart when you come out here every year and you see the people standing in line in the cold with their children and with their families,” said Patricia Smith, president of the Monarch Awards Foundation. “And you know that you can play a small part to touch a life and make a difference.”

Before the doors were opened to the public, school buses of families from three different neighborhood schools arrived and unloaded. Yvette Osborne, 49, mother of twin girls at the Montessori School of Englewood, emerged from the church with bags of groceries.

Yvette Osborne, a single mom of twin girls, received a bag of groceries at the Beautiful Zion Missionary Baptist Church holiday distribution the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

Yvette Osborne, a single mom of twin girls, received a bag of groceries at the Beautiful Zion Missionary Baptist Church holiday distribution the Saturday before Thanksgiving.

A single mother, Osborne had just recently reentered the workforce after being between jobs.

“It’s a huge help,” Osborne said. “I didn’t know how I was going to pay for all this because I just got back to work.”

Chiymelle Nunn, one of the event’s organizers, dashed about with a smile on her face, giving hugs to the guests and, when needed, instructions to the volunteers. Nunn noted that planning and fundraising for next year’s event would begin right after this year’s distribution was done.

Chiymelle Nunn (right) poses and Patricia Smith (center) organize the annual holiday distribution at Beautiful Zion in West Englewood.

Event organizers Chiymelle Nunn (left) and Patricia Smith (center) pose with Ken Berry, senior paralegal at Winston & Strawn, one of the sponsors of the Beautiful Zion holiday distribution.

“This morning, all day, we’re serving with a smile,” Nunn said. “This could literally be us. We’re just happy to serve all mankind and to do it with a smile.”

Learn more about how you can support those in need this holiday season.