' The challenge feels more than worthwhile' Downers Grove church prepares for Christmas Eve meal

DOWNERS GROVE - Following a successful Thanksgiving dinner, St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church in Downers Grove will serve its first free Christmas Eve dinner to community members.

The church has served free Thanksgiving Day meals since 1985, and the pandemic forced the church to adjust serving meals under COVID-19 restrictions. But despite the limitations, 291 community members took part in the dinner.

Catherine Tecktiel, congregation member and coordinator for the meal distribution, said this year’s Thanksgiving Day dinner had the largest turnout the church has ever seen and expects to see even more people for the Christmas Eve dinner.

“We've typically served close to 200 people in the past and this year we actually served 291,” Tecktiel said. “It was people's reactions that really inspired us to kind of take the step to now do a Christmas meal because people were so grateful and many of them shared that they would not have been able to have a meal.”

It was the stories from parents or from single parents who didn't think they were going to have a way to make Thanksgiving feel like a holiday that pushed the church to further its community service, Teckitel said.

“It's not unusual to have someone with tears in their eyes when they pick up a meal,” Teckitel said. “Those moments are really impactful.”

Teckitel said members of the church have talked about serving meals throughout the year and the new Christmas Eve meal is just the beginning.

The Christmas Eve meal will include ham, glazed carrots, mashed potatoes, stuffing, rolls and a festive dessert and holiday cookies. Teckitel said they wanted the meal to feel special yet different from the Thanksgiving dinner.

Due to the pandemic, there will only be 10 volunteers cooking, packaging and distributing the meals as opposed to the 40 volunteers in a regular year. For Thanksgiving, four people cooked for the 291 community members, and the Christmas Eve dinner will be similar, Teckitel said.

“I know we’ll be well over 300, we're already, as of today, at that number for pre-orders for Christmas Eve, so we're confident we'll serve well over 300,” she said.

Teckitel said a lot of people might not realize there’s community members in need because it's not always super visible. She said the church has been committed to finding the need and then gathering all of the people who are offering to help.

“It’s a challenge, but it's one that we're just grateful to be able to have the chance to help people,” Teckitel said. “The challenge feels more than worthwhile.”

Pickup will be from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Christmas Eve, Dec. 24 at St. Andrew’s Church, 1125 Franklin St.