Pfleger: “We’ve abandoned the poor.”
By Chinta Strausberg
In the spirit of Christmas and braving some very frigid weather, Saint Sabina’s Father Michael L. Pfleger Saturday handed out 837 turkeys and said if a church can’t help feed the hungry “they ought to close their doors and go home.”
With Christmas music piped in over the loud speakers and his helpers unloading and bagging 13-pound turkeys in frigid weather, Pfleger first held prayer before passing out the turkeys.
“We do this because it’s what we believe this is what the church is supposed to do,” he told the patient crowd. “Our desire is to serve the community. That’s why we’re here. If we can’t do that, we should close up and go home. That’s why we’re here,” Pfleger said then prayed. “We ask you to bless each and every person in this line, bless their families and may 2012 be a wonderful year of blessing and prosperity…for each one….”
Those with yellow vouchers received their turkeys first and after 1:30 p.m. all others were able to get a turkey; that is all but the last man who walked up. He was too late. All 836 turkeys were gone.
Smiling and saying, “God bless you, Merry Christmas,” at the stroke of noon, Pfleger began to hand out the turkeys. “We know at least 836 families will have a Christmas dinner.” He said Saint Sabina bought most of the turkeys with Jewel’s donating a few hundred.
When asked why does he do this annually, Pfleger said, “We do this every year because people are hurting. I don’t think people realize what this means to somebody that they can get a free dinner. When you don’t have anything, when you’re hurt, when you feel abandoned and disposable in this society,” it is a sign that “we’ve turned our backs on the poor.
Looking out over the crowd, Pfleger added, “We want them to know that we see them. We care about them, and we will do our best to help them.” Many of the people gave Pfleger a lot of hugs, kisses, thank you’s and wishes of Merry Christmas as they accepted their turkey.
Recently, Pfleger gave away 800, 10-pound chickens, another 250 turkey giveaway for Thanksgiving, a food giveaway through the Saint Sabina Social Service Center, a week-long toy giveaway, and he is having the Homeless Christmas dinner Sunday, December 25, 2011 at noon. “We want people to know that we care and that we’re going to do what we can.”
Asked about the shortages in some Chicago food pantries and how it may be affecting Saint Sabina, Pfleger said, “We keep begging. Our shelves have been empty twice, but we keep begging for more food and we will continue…”
According to Pfleger, four of the seven food pantries have closed but he vowed to keep his open because he said the need is there.
And, to his critics who say his food giveaways are “a drop in the bucket,” Pfleger has a message for them: “If you’re hungry, it’s not a drop in the bucket. People were standing in line at 8 am. for a turkey that we‘re giving away at noon; so to those folks out there,” he said waving his arm towards a line more than a block long, he added, “it means a lot.”
One of the first arrivals was Jackie Cleves who was in line at 8:00 a.m. “This means a lot to me because I’ll be able to feed my family. I’ll be able to feed my grand babies and my friends,” she said referring to the 11 people she will have over for Christmas dinner.
Also grateful was Cynthia Williamson.” This means a lot to me. I’ll be able to feed my family. It is wasn’t for this church, I don’t know what we would eat for Christmas.”
Pfleger motioned to a man and his son who brought 36 turkeys which added to Pfleger’s 800 as a gesture of goodwill, but instead of just dropping them off, they stayed and helped bag all 800 turkeys. The man, who lives on the North Side, did not want to be identified. He said he just wanted to help with the turkey giveaway.
Neither the father nor the son had gloves on yet they not only bagged the frozen turkeys but help take them out of the cardboard boxes as well.
Also helping Pfleger distribute the turkeys were: Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-16th), Chazz Clark, 8, the son of Vincent Clark, assistant to Pfleger who collected the vouchers, Malchi Hunter, 9, the son of Phillip Hunter, the team leader for the armor bearer’s at Saint Sabina, and Annette Nance-Holt, who lost her son, Blair, 16, in May of 2007 while riding a CTA bus.