Thanksgiving, now in its seventh year, may serve as many as 1,000 men and women for the first time if enough people step forward to help.
“This started small, back in 2009,” said organizer Mike Cozzi. “That first year, our goal was to help feed 10 to 15 veterans and their families at Thanksgiving. We ended up reaching 109 that year.”
The effort, known simply as Veterans Food Drive, will reach its peak this year at the Bridgeview Sports Dome, 8900 S. 77th Ave. Hundreds of volunteers will unload, sort, assess and bag several tons of turkeys and boxed, bagged and canned food items starting at 11 a.m. Friday, Nov. 20 and running all day and much of the evening.
Starting at 10 a.m. the following day, volunteers will work to get the bags of groceries into the hands of veterans in need (who have pre-registered to receive the assistance). Some volunteers will work at the Sports Dome, helping vets who drive up. Others will work on mobile crews that deliver the groceries (about 6-7 bags per veteran) directly to the homes of those in need.
The drive was moved to the Sports Dome in 2014 after it outgrew its previous headquarters, the Des Plaines Valley VFW Post 6863 in Summit.
Cozzi, the son of a Korean War veteran, is known to many
for his involvement in charitable efforts to assist and salute veterans, including Honor Flight Chicago service, in which he uses his booming voice to rev up crowds welcoming World War II veterans as they return to Midway Airport after a day of all-expenses-paid sightseeing in Washington, D.C.
Cozzi was inspired to launch the annual drive when he saw the plight of veterans. "It amazed me that veterans who are returning from service overseas were unable to find work, were struggling to provide the bare necessities," he said.
He added that the drive typically serves "veterans who are unemployed or on some other kind of hardship.”
Some of the vets “wonder how we got ahold of them because they thought they were forgotten. These are individuals who have struggled all along and are living off their disability [checks] or Social Security or retirement from the military, and that’s what they’re limited to. To be able to do something like this, to have such a magnitude of support from the community so we’re able to provide an extensive meal for them, really means a lot.”
Veterans who will be assisted at this year’s food drive are from city neighborhoods, as well as the nearby suburbs and other locations throughout Cook County, as well as some in DuPage and Will Counties.
Those who want to volunteer at the Sports Dome on Nov. 20-21 are encouraged to simply show up during the times listed above, whether they plan to work the whole day or just an hour.
People who want to donate non-perishable food should bring items to the Sports Dome on Nov. 20.
Those who want to donate money to the cause are advised
Finally, veterans in need who want to register to receive food should visit the website and follow the “registration” link.
# # #