There were smiles on the lips of some and tears in the eyes of others. Valker Hall, located in the basement of St. Francis de Sales Church, buzzed with anticipation as 15 volunteers busily worked together to hand out boxes filled with all the fixings for a fine Thanksgiving meal.
But each box was much more than just a meal; each one touched not only the person who carried it away, but also the loved ones they planned to share their Thanksgiving holiday with.
It was a rare opportunity for those who received the gifts to enjoy the coming holiday free of worry over how food would be put on the table.
On the evening of Sunday, Nov. 21, Emmaus House of Hospitality, a non-profit whose focus is in part to feed the hungry, gave away 173 boxes filled with frozen turkeys, cranberry sauce, vegetables, mashed potatoes, gravy, cake mix and coffee.
"I feel a little bit of shame; not too long ago I was giving food away to people who needed it and now I'm here. I do feel blessed though; I am humbled, but grateful," Lynn Densler said while almost in tears. She is a single mother of four who is dealing with the possible loss of a job and many mouths to feed.
Susan Stillman, who has been helped by Emmaus House in the past, also came to the event, but hadn't signed up, as required by early October to receive the turkey dinner.
Stephanie Halen, director of food rescue, knows Stillman well and of the severe financial stress she is currently facing possibly losing her home. Halen was able to give her an unclaimed turkey dinner and said the whole experience was very touching.
"She hugged me, it was very emotional. It just helps me feel good knowing when we celebrate our Thanksgiving, we did our part to give back to others so they could enjoy their holiday too," said Halen.
Diane Barsano, a single mother of six children, said Emmaus House isn't just helping her provide for her children on Thanksgiving. "I know for some people it isn't a problem, but with what I would spend on a Thanksgiving dinner, I would be able to buy my family groceries for a week."
"Getting this (turkey dinner) helps me breathe a little easier knowing I can give my kids the holiday they deserve," said Barsano.
For some, the most basic need for food is something that isn't taken for granted.
"It's not just one person we are giving this to; it's a family. It might be a family who hasn't had a good meal for a week," said Beth Talbott, Emmaus House of Hospitality board member.
"And now these people can have a thanksgiving and not worry about where it will come from; a community has been formed here," she added.
More than 75 percent of the donated meals were given to residents of Lake Zurich and the immediate surrounding areas; including Palatine, Barrington, Mundelein, Island Lake and Wauconda.
The remaining turkey dinners were given away to individuals who travelled from as far north as Waukegan and as far south as Chicago.
The dinners were purchased from the Northern Illinois Food Bank by Emmaus House with the help of donations received by the charity. This year marks the 5th anniversary of the turkey giveaway.
In addition to its focus on feeding the hungry, Emmaus House also provides housing assistance and performs 'food rescue.'
Help for those facing eviction or foreclosure is facilitated by a team of volunteer case workers, and funded by a variety of events to raise money for clients of the non-profit.
The biggest fundraiser is the annual rummage sale which is held in the second weekend of July.
Food Rescue is the final goal of the non-profit. Food is 'rescued' or collected from retail grocers such as Costco, Jewel and Trader Joes. The perishable items are still usable but near expiration and would otherwise be discarded.
Volunteers collect it from the retailers and donate it on Sundays after the Community Dinner from the 'Harvest Room.'
Food items including milk, eggs, meats, fish, fresh produce and bakery items are laid out on several long tables and offered free of charge to people who attend.
Emmaus House of Hospitality is currently seeking alternate organizations to provide food for Sunday dinners in the future. The non-profit will host the dinner and provide the volunteers.
"We are looking for people to help with community dinners and food rescue," said Dana Rzeznik, president of the Emmaus House board of directors and village board trustee. "We also could use volunteers to help with next year's rummage sale."
Financial and food donations are always welcome as well, Rzeznik added.
Emmaus House of Hospitality was founded in 2000, and had just seven people attend its first Community Dinner on June 4, 2000.
The dinner is open to anyone in need of nourishment, or companionship, or both.
Tessie Europa has been attending the Community Dinner for a number of years, and says, "There is so much help here; being disabled (she suffers from severe fibromyalgia) makes life harder, but I get love here and it makes my life a little easier."
"These people are my family now," said Europa.
"I'm grateful for the opportunity to do this, and that Emmaus can be the conduit between those who are able to give in the community and those that need a helping hand," said Laura Zickuhr, director of the community dinner.
For additional information on the Emmaus House of Hospitality or to become a volunteer, visit their website at www.emmaus-house.org.