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Gurnee church hosts sailors for Thanksgiving

November 26, 2009 8:38:53 PM PST
Dozens of Chicago-area sailors got Thanksgiving meals thanks to members of a church in north suburban Gurnee. The sailors from the naval station Great Lakes also got a chance to phone home.

At the Gurnee Community Church, they spend months getting ready for this day, but when it arrives, it's crazy.

Thirty-seven turkeys this year -- all of them deep fried -- and a gravy that has the character of its maker.

"My Irish mother from the West Side of Chicago told me how to make the gravy and it'd warm the cockles of your heart," Ray Henders said.

Volunteers with Gurnee Community have been cooking for the community the last 15 Thanksgivings. Eight years ago, they began the tradition of inviting sailors from Great Lakes Naval Training Center.

They don't just arrive and find a seat; they are cheered to their seats -- each and every one. It's a powerful moment for young recruits, most far from home, who've had very little contact with family over the last seven weeks of their boot camp training.

"When I walked in I was overwhelmed. The feeling was outstanding," said Jonathan Dallago, from California.

"Put a smile on my face. Made me feel like I'm doing something good for my country," said Jamar Drayton, from Pennsylvania.

"It's just a breath of fresh air. Happy people taking time out of their day to take care of us," said Michael Devore, from California.

It's not just the ovation that is the stuff of lasting impression. The food is top drawer too.

When asked how the meal compares to the food on the base, Indiana sailor Ryan Backherms said, "It doesn't compare."

Once the pie was consumed, for many of these young Navy men, it was time to phone home. In seven weeks on base, they got two calls -- both under two minutes.

Thursday, for free, they got to talk to those they love with pretty much no limit.

For all the volunteers here, there is no greater reward than seeing their faces.


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