DOWNERS GROVE - For Catherine Tecktiel, the most satisfying moment of the annual Thanksgiving meal at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Downers Grove is when everyone sits down to eat.
A diverse group of individuals including families with children, homeless people and residents of retirement communities and nursing homes come together for a meal prepared and served by volunteers from the church.
"They're all just conversing and enjoying this meal together," said Tecktiel, who oversees the effort. "There's no judgment. There's just warmth."
The church, located at 1125 Franklin St., will serve this year's meal from 11:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Thanksgiving Day. The meal is free and everyone is welcome.
The food, which is donated by parishioners and other individuals from outside the parish, is prepared by volunteers the day before Thanksgiving. Last year, 14 turkeys, 10 hams and a variety of side dishes were served, Tecktiel said. Leftovers are transported to the Wayside Cross Ministries in Aurora.
"Our objective is to invite all to a safe, welcoming, warm place for what we hope is a truly delicious meal and a special experience," Tecktiel said.
Volunteers take extra steps to make the environment surrounding the meal feel inviting.
"We use real table linens and china," Tecktiel said. "We don't want them to feel like this is a handout."
The number of people served has increased dramatically over the years, Tecktiel said.
In 2011, about 60 people showed up for the meal. Last year, 160 people attended the event, she said.
"I am so glad we are able to reach so many people who might need this sort of event, and maybe our numbers have increased because we've gotten better at communicating the event to the public," Tecktiel said. "On the other hand, it's possible that there are just more people and families now who need this event, which is hard, but important, to acknowledge."