Chicago's 'Pacific Garden Mission' feeds thousands in need on Thanksgiving

CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) - Thanksgiving is a holiday of plenty for most of us. But for others who are elderly, sick or homeless, a good hot meal is a luxury.

That’s why the company that feeds fans at Chicago’s ballparks and stadiums spent the day feeding thousands of people.

On Thursday, FOX 32’s Dane Placko was at the famous "Pacific Garden Mission" on South Canal Street.

So, what do you do when a small city is showing up for thanksgiving dinner? You run it with military precision.

"This is a big operation. You serve three thousand people in a very short period of time and you have to have it down to an art and a science,” said CEO of Levy Restaurants Andy Lansing.

For nearly two decades, employees of Levy Restaurants and their families have cooked and served Thanksgiving dinner at the Pacific Garden Mission on Chicago’s South Side.

And the man at the center of the storm is Levy's vice president, top chef, and human dynamo, Robin Rosenberg.

"Look at that pumpkin pie. Isn’t that beautiful?" he said.

Rosenberg actually started cooking this year’s Thanksgiving meal last Monday using the company's massive kitchen facility at US Cellular Field.

"It's the only place we can really produce this much food in that amount of time, so we actually start a week out doing it,” said Rosenberg.

How much food? 1800 pounds of turkey, 800 pounds of green beans, 600 pounds of cranberries and 45 gallons of gravy.

And perhaps what's most remarkable is everything available to eat: the mashed potatoes, the yams, the turkey, the stuffing, the green beans, the sweet potatoes are all made from scratch.

"We want them to have the meal they would get in a home, to make them feel like 'welcome to our home,” Rosenberg said.

The women and children are seated first, like Vetty Burns, who says this is her first Thanksgiving dinner at the mission.

"Yes, it's been kind of difficult. But God's working on it and I’m looking for a great outcome,” Burns said.

"Today I can accept that I’m not on the streets. I’m not in nobody's drug house today. And I thank God for that,” said Nova Phillips.

Indeed, many of those FOX 32 talked to on Thursday say they're newly homeless.

"Appreciate the meal. Appreciate the brothers teaching me the word and helping each other out. It’s a different world but it's beautiful,” said Zack Martin.

And that makes it all worthwhile for the dozens of volunteers...

"It just makes our entire Thanksgiving. It’s just really special to help other people out, see the people who come in here. It’s amazing,” said 14 year volunteer Aimee Labadessa.

And for chef Rosenberg, who feeds millions of sports fans at Wrigley field, the Cell and the United Center, this is his favorite meal of the year.

"For me to do this is just a great feeling inside. And I look forward all year to doing this. It makes me happy to do this and see the smiles on their faces when they get the food,” Rosenberg said.

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