Two local restaurants serve free Thanksgiving food

MORRIS – Sisters Lou Kellogg and Judi Miller decided to do Thanksgiving a little different this year.

“We knew that we were both going to be alone,” Kellogg said. “Our kids do their own things so we thought, why not spend this Thanksgiving together.”

Miller and Kellogg spent their holiday in the company of about 75 other people at Al’s Family Restaurant on Thursday.

For the 11th year, the restaurant offered free food and friendship to anyone who wanted it this Thanksgiving.

“The food was delicious and the best part was, I didn’t have to cook it,” Kellogg said.

The free meal is sponsored by I Care International and hosted by the Lopez family who own Al’s Family restaurant. Al and Maria Lopez and their family volunteer to cook all of the food for the event.

“We started cooking at 5 a.m. this morning,” Al Lopez said. “But we had a lot of help. Everyone working in the kitchen is my family.”

Local businessmen Jim Baum and Chuck Greenway and their families also helped out with the meal, serving food and cleaning tables.

“What’s important about this is not the food – the food is secondary,” Baum said. “It’s all about the food and fellowship. People don’t want to be lonely on Thanksgiving.”

Tom and Mary Wilkinson, retired teachers from Morris, have been coming to Al’s Thanksgiving meal since it began 11 years ago, making it their new Thanksgiving tradition.

The Wilkinson’s said they come back not only for the food but for the hospitality and companionship.

“This is the first time in 11 years that we’ve not had someone come join us,” Mary Wilkinson said. “Last year we ran into an old friend – another retired teacher – who was eating alone so we invited her to sit with us. That’s what is great about this.”

Fourteen miles away, in Diamond, the Whistle Stop Cafe held their own free Thanksgiving meal.

This was the second year that owner Stacy Morales and her husband, Jose, hosted a free meal, but Morales said this year’s turnout was much bigger than last year’s.

“We have about 50 volunteers here right now,” Morales said. “It’s absolutely amazing.”

Morales said because of last week’s tornado, the restaurant received more donations than ever. The entire event was sponsored by donations from the CEO and Senior Vice President (SVP) of Com Ed as well as several state politicians.

“Everyone can use a warm meal, especially the people of in this area, after what they have been through,” said Com Ed SVP Fidel Marquez. Marquez drove from Chicago on Thursday to attend the meal.

The restaurant was filled with new faces and Whistle Stop regulars all there to enjoy the food and each other’s company.

“This is some of the best restaurant food I’ve ever had,” attendee Mary Ann Morgan said. “I decided to have a girls day today and didn’t feel like cooking. We’re starting here then going shopping and maybe catching a show later.”

Volunteers drove from all over the state to the Whistle Stop to cook, serve and deliver food.

Jim Hunter and David Edmundson of Tinley Park dropped off a truckload of clothes and $1800 in gift cards for tornado victims before volunteering at the cafe.

“We’re just happy to help in anyway we can,” Hunter said. “This community needs it, especially now.”