Chillicothe cafe prepares to again offer free Thanksgiving meals

By Elise Zwicky For Chronicle Media

Sarah Williamson (left) and her daughter, Jenny Block, work last year in the kitchen of their café, Happy Thought Coffee, to provide a free Thanksgiving meal to the community. This year, meals can be reserved for carryout or delivery by calling the café. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Williamson)

Sarah Williamson knows there are many reasons a person might not be able to cook their own Thanksgiving dinner, so she’s doing her part to make sure no one in her community goes hungry that day.

For the 12th year, the owner of Happy Thought Coffee in Chillicothe will be offering a free carryout or delivery turkey feast to anyone who can use one on Thanksgiving day, Nov. 28.

“I am certain there are some who couldn’t afford to get a meal like they can get here. I think the other part of it, though, is if there are only a few people in your household, it’s really hard to make a Thanksgiving feast with real food for just two or three people,” Williamson said.

Williamson and her helpers will be cooking a traditional holiday dinner with roast turkey, dressing, cranberries, mashed potatoes and gravy, sweet potatoes, scalloped corn, green bean casserole, rolls and pumpkin pie with whipped cream.

Williamson was inspired by her late father, Bill Gillen, to start offering the holiday meals.

Every Thanksgiving before going to his daughter’s house for the holiday meal, Gillen would drive to Sadie’s Café in Peoria, which was known for giving away free turkey dinners, to make a monetary donation toward serving those in need.

After losing both her parents within two months of each other in 2008, Williamson knew Thanksgiving might be a difficult day without them. In honor of what her father had done to help others, she decided to offer the community a Thanksgiving meal at her café.

“I like cooking, and I like making people happy,” she said. “I like feeling like I’ve made somebody’s day a little better.”

After offering a sit-down meal for the first 10 years, Williamson switched last year to offering just carryout or delivery because she was facing knee surgery. She has since recovered fully from the surgery, but last year’s Thanksgiving worked out so well that she’s decided to continue offering just the takeout or delivery meals.

“I only had one person say ‘I wish you were doing it the other way.’ Everybody else was very understanding and seemed fine with it, and it cut my work down tremendously,” Williamson said. “You know what it’s like when you have company over and you have to get everything ready and then do all the clean-up afterward. This way, I just gave it all to them to take with them. It worked out really well.”

She may set the food out as a buffet this year, though, and have the folks who are picking up a meal choose the food they’d like to take home.

“Because I put some of everything on all those meals, it didn’t go as far as it always has,” Williamson said. “My family eats after everyone else has been served, and when my family got to the food last year, there wasn’t much dressing left. I had cooked the way I always do in the same quantities, but I came close to running out.”

She also plans to make a little more stuffing this year, just in case.

People who wish to have a to-go box pre-made for them with all the fixings rather than go through the buffet line can request that when they call to reserve a meal.

Williamson will be roasting five turkeys with help from her daughter, Jenny Block, and her daughter’s mother-in-law, Kath Block. Family friends Dick and Sarah Nudd also help with the meal prep, and this year Williamson’s brother and his wife, Shawn and Alisa Gillen of Galesburg, will be helping, as well.

Williamson’s husband, Wes, and grandson, Ryan, will be helping with deliveries, along with Community Needs Agency president Darlene Kumpf and her brother, Jeff Kingsley.

Happy Thought Coffee owner Sarah Williamson (left) poses with her daughter, Jenny Block, and granddaughter, Ella, at a previous Santa’s Brunch event at her Chillicothe café. Williamson offers the brunch every year, as well as a free carryout or delivery turkey dinner on Thanksgiving. (Photo courtesy of Sarah Williamson)

Anyone can request a carryout meal, but deliveries will only be made within a mile of Chillicothe. About 75 meals were served last year. The CNA is partnering with Williamson for the second year to help offset the cost of preparing the meals.

“The Community Needs Agency provides assistance and programs for those who need a little help that live within the IVC 321 School District,” Kumpf said. “We provide temporary assistance and offer many programs but felt we wanted to do something for the seniors in the community, so the board got together and decided that helping Sarah at Happy Thought Coffee with her Thanksgiving meal would be just the thing.”

Noting that the holidays should be a time of joy, Kumpf said, “They can also be a sad, lonely or stressful time, especially for senior citizens. Sarah’s meal is a bright spot. Many of the seniors live alone and they especially love a good meal and attention because many of them don’t cook or can’t afford to cook a big meal.”

Kumpf said delivering the meals and spending a few minutes to chat is the fastest way to put a smile on another person’s face. “My brother and I love to help deliver the meals, because in a few hours you can visit with lots of people you have not seen in a while and still get home in time for our family Thanksgiving dinner.”

While donations are not asked for nor expected, some people give anyway. All donations will go toward an annual Santa’s Brunch that Williamson offers free-of-charge to area children.

Santa’s Brunch will be held on Dec. 7 and pre-registration is required. Children will visit with Santa, decorate a cookie, make a Christmas ornament and receive a goody bag and a present from Santa’s bag.

Pre-ordered Thanksgiving meals can be picked up at Happy Thought Coffee, located inside the historic 1868 bank building at  at 953 N. Second St, between 12 and 2 p.m. Nov. 28. To reserve a meal for carryout or delivery or to make a reservation for Santa’s Brunch, call the ca