ENGLEWOOD — An Englewood non-profit launched by a man who “wanted to be the guy who provides hope” is gearing up for a 1,000-turkey giveaway this weekend.
Servants For Hope, an organization that serves low-income families in marginalized communities, is back for its fifth Thanksgiving turkey and ham giveaway. Beginning 11 a.m. Saturday, neighbors can go to 6600 S. Hermitage Ave. for holiday meal kits.
Thanksgiving favorites — like turkey, ham, stuffing, cornbread, yams and cranberry sauce — are on the menu.
The organization sought to raise $7,500 to reach its goal of 1,000 meals. After Block Club wrote about the effort Tuesday, the group raised more than $5,000 in a day, putting the fundraiser over $11,000 in total.
They are still accepting donations here. Founder Deonte Tanner said extra funds will also support the group’s holiday giveaway, where members buy Christmas gifts for families.
“If I can put a smile on a family’s faces during the holidays and alleviate some of the burdens, that’s impactful to me,” founder Deonte Tanner said. “The ultimate goal is to provide hope and help people tap into their purpose in life.”
The first time Tanner helped neighbors in Englewood, he did so from the warmth of his mother’s living room.
Tanner grew up on 64th and Wolcott in Englewood. Watching the disinvestment taking place in his community made him feel helpless, he said.
“At the time, I thought the entire system was failing us,” Tanner said. “I started to believe that we were never meant to succeed. But I had no other choice but to press on.”
Tanner, a Gates Millennium Scholar — a prestigious scholarship that provides complete coverage of college tuition — was a student at Marquette University when he had the urge to help families in his neighborhood on Christmas. The year was 2016. It was three weeks before the holiday.
Together with his two best friends, Tanner created a GoFundMe and raised $1,000 for presents for families in need in the community.
Come Christmas, people came in and out of Tanner’s mother’s living room for toys and goods. Seeing the hope on neighbors’ faces filled him with excitement, he said.
“I didn’t honestly expect such a great impact, but the moment someone asked if I was going to do the Christmas giveaway again the following year, it became so real for me,” Tanner said. “As soon as January hit, I was longing for Christmas again. I asked myself how I could keep my mind off of Christmas. That’s how Thanksgiving came about.”
Tanner founded Servants For Hope in July 2017.
Later that year, Tanner held his first turkey giveaway. With the help from friends and family, Tanner gave away 100 turkeys in the neighborhood, he said.
The following year, he decided to raise the bar.
“The Thanksgiving that next year, in 2018, we gave away 450 turkeys,” Tanner said. “It kept building from there. Once you get into the big numbers, like 400 or 500 turkeys, you either have to match it, or you need to go above. So each year, we challenged ourselves to go higher.”
In 2019, a friend challenged Tanner to provide 1,000 turkeys, he said.
“I thought he was crazy, but I decided I had to match his energy,” Tanner said. “We ended up raising $10,000 the third year, and I was able to get 1,000 turkeys.”
When the pandemic hit in 2020, Tanner witnessed “double the suffering” in Englewood, he said.
For Thanksgiving, he created grocery kits with 500 turkeys. Due to a shortage, he threw in a new item he hoped would please families: ham. Each kit contained macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauces and cornbread — the essentials.
“I wanted to be the guy who provides hope,” Tanner said. “I wanted to be one of the guys who would provide a counter-narrative to those different narratives that people had about Englewood.”
The ham was a hit, Tanner said. To his humor, families requested it over the turkey.
This year, he hopes to have plenty of hams to go around, he said.
“We’re definitely looking forward to serving more people,” Tanner said. “Despite the pandemic, we got to rise above.
“I really want to get folks to realize that, despite obvious circumstances and different systems of oppression and marginalization, we all have a purpose.”
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