Since her husband got laid off a few months ago, Donna Kager and her family have gotten by collecting aluminum cans and turning them in for cash. It was enough to pay the electric bill, but not enough cans were left from the dwindling pile to put some toys under the tree or make something special for dinner this Christmas.
So when volunteers Ed and Sharon Kristof showed up with turkey dinners and some toys at the Kagers' Bridgeview mobile home, Donna was already half way out the door eagerly greeting them.
“My husband’s been laid for a long time and has had a hard time getting unemployment. I can’t get food stamps,” she said. “These are all the cans we’ve been saving. You got to do something to pay the bills.”
A few days before, a friend gave Donna’s daughter a Christmas tree and some ornaments so her daughter could have a tree for her grandchildren.
“Everybody’s trying to help everybody,” Donna said.
Her husband, Robert, was laid off from his construction job in the fall. He says the past year has been the worst he’s had in the 25 years that he’s been in the union.
“Construction has been slow but it’s supposed to get better next year,” Robert said hopefully. “I didn’t have enough work hours for my health insurance to pay for my allergy shots, so bless you for bringing this over.”
The generous portioned turkey dinners were provided by Sandi Digangi and Eddie Memishi, who own Big Pappa’s Mr. Gryos at 10806 S. Cicero Ave. This is the second year that the couple has hosted its dinner for the economically disadvantaged in Oak Lawn, Alsip, Burbank, Chicago Ridge and Bridgeview.
Throughout the day, volunteers served and delivered 1,000 dinners to a steady stream of seniors, homeless, unemployed and anyone else who was alone on Christmas. By 10 a.m., families that had heard about the free dinners from the fliers Sandi had posted around town or by word of mouth were lined up outside the restaurant's door.
As the Kristofs dropped off seven dinners at the Kager household, another neighbor from the mobile home park asked how she could get five dinners for her own family—and some toys for her children. The Kristofs told her they'd come back.
“We're probably getting as much out of this as they are,” Ed Kristof said.
During the past year, Sandi has been taking a little out of till and putting it aside to buy turkeys and other trimmings, combining it with donations of money, toys and food from Oak Lawn businesses and organizations.
The week before Christmas, after a 12-hour day, Sandi and Eddie stayed up all night after the restaurant closed cooking turkeys. As they managed the joyous controlled chaos preparing food, packing dinners and sorting toys, volunteers returned from delivering dinners, often in tears from their small epiphanies of Christmas.
A teenager ran outside to hug the volunteers who had brought his family dinner and gifts; another young boy was entranced by the Santa hats worn by volunteers who offered him toys.
“I’m too tired to cry anymore,” Sandi said, who had gone 35 hours without sleep. “But I’m happy it all went well.”