Winnetka, Community

Local volunteers help canceled fundraiser turn into 2,800 Thanksgiving meals

Silver linings were made for times like these.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a drain on all areas of society, from physical and mental health to economics and politics. Any victory, no matter the size, is difficult to identify, let alone appreciate.

But they do exist. In a normal year, the Settlement Thanksgiving Dinner will feed about 400 people, but this year, because of circumstances related to COVID-19, the event distributed 2,800 meals on Saturday, Nov. 21, in Chicago’s West Town.

“We served seven times as many people,” said Christine Beer, a Winnetka resident and a member of the Winnetka Auxiliary board of Northwestern Settlement. “The impact was great.”

The event’s funding was available as another side effect of COVID-19. 

Northwestern Settlement had to cancel a spring fundraiser, leaving them with an $8,000 credit with Catering by Michael’s. Instead of cashing in down the road, the nonprofit had the caterer use the funds to pack Thanksgiving family dinners, complete with turkey, gravy, stuffing, cornbread, cranberry sauce, potatoes and vegetables. 

Associated Bank jumped on board to supplement the funding, and Catering by Michael’s made 700 boxes, each with four servings — that’s more than 1,500 pounds of stuffing.

Catering by Michael’s was able to rehire 15 employees to complete the orders, which didn’t last long.

“Distribution took just 90 minutes. It was fast and furious — and COVID-safe,” Beer said. “It was a wonderful way to get together and keep the tradition going.”

Northwestern Settlement serves underprivileged families from numerous Chicago neighborhoods.

It is supported by four auxiliary boards located throughout Chicagoland that fundraise for the charity. 

The Winnetka Board was established in 1925 and features 30 members from New Trier Township. 

Amy Chung has been on the Winnetka Board for more than three years. Usually, she attends Settlement Thanksgiving with her entire family. 

While this year was different, Chung relished the opportunity to volunteer on distribution day and be among the community in honor of a special American holiday.

“I think it’s clearly at the core of American identity, the idea of Thanksgiving,” she said. “We all came as immigrants to this country and Thanksgiving is supposed to be this celebration of bounty. Some families literally cannot afford a Thanksgiving meal that we have pictured in our heads. To be able to give somebody the opportunity to go all out and have all the trimmings you would want, I was really thrilled to be able to do that.” 

Fundraising in the time of COVID

With its main fundraising event canceled this year, the Winnetka Board — led by Beer and fellow co-chairwomen Lieke Hakkenberg, of Kenilworth, and Tracy Heilman, of Wilmette — is hosting a Gala-To-Go, a virtual fundraiser that culminates with a weekend of virtual activities in mid February 2021. 

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joe coughlin
Joe Coughlin

Joe Coughlin is a co-founder and the editor in chief of The Record. He leads investigative reporting and reports on anything else needed. Joe has been recognized for his investigative reporting and sports reporting, feature writing and photojournalism. Follow Joe on Twitter @joec2319

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