Volunteers said they could feel the essential element in the air even though the aroma of Thanksgiving fare was evident in the kitchen.
That ingredient was love, according to believers, who said love was sourced from multiple volunteers of all ages. They gave of their time on Thanksgiving Eve at the Nov. 23 soup kitchen at Beth Emet The Free Synagogue in Evanston, 1224 Dempster St.
“I love doing this, I love doing this!” said Donna Wolf of Evanston, a volunteer.
“Everybody is happy, it’s warm and fun in the kitchen. It’s a happy place,” Wolf said.
On regular Wednesdays, Beth Emet opens its doors to the Herman Crown Room where diners can easily number more than 100 to benefit from a free, homemade meal. People come alone or in groups.
“Being here is amazing,” said Leslie Shulruff of Evanston, soup kitchen chair.
“It’s very rewarding.”
What’s the power of a warm meal?
“A lot of these people are food insecure,” said Zach Selch of Evanston, chef/site supervisor whose cranberry stuffing is locally renowned.
Diners have told Selch they look forward to his Thanksgiving stuffing each year, saying it’s the best they’ve tasted.
“These people don’t always know where they’re going to get a meal from and they certainly don’t know where they’re going to get a nice, family-type home cooked meal,” Selch said.
“This is really special for a lot of our guests,” said Selch, who has three children with his wife Tamar Selch.
Their children are Jordan Selch, 15, an Evanston Township High School freshman and twins Lila and Thalia Selch, 10, and fifth-graders.
“They just don’t get meals like this on a regular basis and sometimes they go years without this type of a meal,” Zach Selch said, of those who could be homeless, in need of companionship or of a meal they can’t afford or can’t justify preparing with a wide range of ingredients on their budget.
“There’s huge power in this,” Zach Selch said.
The meal that Wednesday included 14 turkey breasts, 16 pumpkin pies plus whipped cream, 20 pounds of mixed autumn vegetables, 25 pounds of stuffing, green salad, gravy, 20 loaves of donated bread plus rolls, 25 pounds of sweet potatoes and ingredients to pack 110 bag lunches to-go featuring “leftover” Thanksgiving turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce plus stuffing as festive spread/condiments.
Hewn Bakery of Evanston donated the artisan bread. Beverages poured included juice.
Zach Selch’s bread-based stuffing served Nov. 23 featured turkey sausage, sunflower seeds, celery, sage and dried plus fresh cranberries. Selch makes a similar stuffing for his family for Thanksgiving Day, adding nuts (Beth Emet is a tree nut-free zone) and substituting a different sausage.
“It’s the meal with everything,” Zach Selch said. “It’s all made from scratch.”
After a welcome and meal blessing at 4 p.m., diners were invited to have their plates filled at a volunteer-staffed buffet line. Second helpings were popular, especially with pumpkin pie.
Guests sat at tables where they could look at center placemats made by first and fourth-graders from Lincoln Elementary School in Evanston.
Piano music during supper featuring classical works was provided by Aryeh Kitzes of Evanston. People could relax to enjoy an hour of meal service.
Young volunteers pushed carts around the room offering more dessert shortly before closing time.
Volunteers included Tomas Zapp, 12, of Deerfield and a Caruso Middle School seventh-grader who accompanied his family.
What is he thankful for this Thanksgiving?
“I’m thankful for family,” Tomas said.
Adults echoed similar gratitude.
“I’m just happy to be here,” said Hillary Coustan of Evanston, a volunteer.
“It’s really gratifying and it feels really great to help out so many people.”
— The power of a warm meal served up at Evanston synagogue —