Thanksgiving at the Little Brothers-Friends of the Elderly

An elder toasts the holiday at the Little Brothers - Friends of the Elderly, Chicago Chapter's Spanish-speaking Thanksgiving celebration in 2018.

Kiera Hannula has lived in Streeterville for just over a year and, like many of her fellow Americans, will be spending this Thanksgiving at home, apart from family.

But that won't stop her from finding an enjoyable way to celebrate the holiday in her new neighborhood.

"I will most likely plan a big fun meal but get lazy by the time the holiday comes and have a frozen pizza—and lots of wine of course," she said." I might meet up with a neighbor in my building, if she’s home from her family’s house in time."

For Streeterville resident Christopher Reyes, this Thanksgiving will continue a new tradition he and his mother developed when city restaurants began limiting capacity: getting carry-out meals, driving to a location "with a cool view" (often as simple as a parking lot overlooking the highway) and enjoying their food together from the trays in their laps.

Their default holiday meal is the turkey dinner at The Capital Grille, he said.

"We usually try to find a family restaurant or something that makes individual portions of a Thanksgiving special," he explained.

Streeterville resident Debra Hoitomt said this will be a particularly unusual Thanksgiving for her, as she and her husband typically travel during the holiday. Last year, they spent Thanksgiving in New Zealand with friends and visited a restaurant for dinner.

This time around, the couple is considering a walk on the lakefront after lunch, depending on the weather, and potentially purchasing a special treat to cook for dinner, most likely fresh seafood or crab cakes, as she and her husband aren't big fans of turkey, she said.

"As usual, my husband will insist on pumpkin pie," she said. "We will try to find something upbeat to watch on streaming."


Doing good in the neighborhood

The weeks surrounding Thanksgiving are full of opportunities to help those less fortunate and improve the community, both in Streeterville and other areas of Chicago.

Young Professionals Streeterville (YPS) invited area residents to participate in the group's winter service event, "Clean Up + Cocktails," on Nov. 7, at One Bennett Park. Tools and bags for the event were provided by the city of Chicago, said Mario W. Hollemans, president of the organization.

"One of our pillars at YPS is service, which is seen in our motto, 'Be Social & Serve,'" Hollemans said. "During these uncertain times the only certain thing is service, service to our neighbors and community at large. YPS hopes to be an example to all organizations out there that service and giving back should be in the forefront of all things."

Elsewhere in Chicago, organizations such as the Honeycomb Project are encouraging volunteers to step up and help out with in-person opportunities to create Thanksgiving baskets for families in need and pack accessible lunches for individuals experiencing homelessness.

Little Brothers - Friends of the Elderly, Chicago Chapter is looking for volunteers to help deliver Thanksgiving meals to eligible seniors. The organization serves nearly 1,000 seniors who are aging without support from friends and family, said Shayna Courtney Serpe, a writer at the chapter.

"About 200 meals will be picked up every hour, and they'll be made the preceding hour so that they're ready for pick-up and they're as freshly made as possible that way," Courtney Serpe explained. "We welcome anyone over the age of 18 to volunteer."

Volunteers must complete a virtual orientation, which takes about an hour and is led by the organization's director of volunteer services and community engagement, she said. There is also an online background check.

The Thanksgiving meal, which includes smoked turkey, mashed potatoes, a vegetable side and pumpkin pie, dinner rolls, gravy, cranberry sauce and seedless grapes, is created by Fight2Feed, a non-profit that makes food for people experiencing homelessness using surplus food from grocery stores and restaurants.

"We always like to give something that's colorful and bright, like a plant or fresh-cut flowers with our deliveries," Courtney Serpe added. "There's going to be some treats that many elders aren't able to treat themselves with very easily, so some chocolates. There's going to be an activity folder with different pages of activities, all with a Thanksgiving theme, and we also like to include a bottle of sparkling cider to toast the day."

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