Huge portions for biblical proportions

11-25-10-CHN04Karen Alvarez holds a second plate for her 6-year-old son Javier as they go through the buffet line at the Thanskgiving dinner served at Festival Hall in Racine, Nov. 25. The Alvarezes were among about 750 people who dined at the event. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson) 
RACINE — How many turkeys does it take to feed 700 or more guests at a gourmet Thanksgiving dinner?

Answer: At least a couple of hundred, give or take 50.

Turkey and good company. Two Racine businessmen tried to make sure everyone has their fill of both, so they invited those young and old, well off and less fortunate, to a free Thanksgiving meal.

Yorkville residents Dan Johnson and Ray Stibeck served about 750 people during their first Thanksgiving at Festival Hall in Racine last Thursday. Along with more than 200 volunteers, they served dinner on Thanksgiving Day for four hours at 5 Fifth St., Racine.

“Our phone has been ringing off the hook from people not only wanting to come to the dinner, but also to volunteer and donate food,” said Stibeck about two weeks before the event. “It has been an amazing response; it seems a fire has been lit in the city. At least 100 local businesses are contributing, donating money or their time – some of the county board supervisors will be helping and the mayor of Racine will be here pouring coffee.”

For six years, Johnson, 48, and Stibeck, 34, discussed hosting a community event to show their gratitude for the blessings of their businesses. Johnson is owner of Danny Meats and Catering, 1317 4 Mile Road, Caledonia, and Stibeck owns KZ, Air Conditioning and Hydronics, LLC, 2226 Douglas Ave., Racine.

“We kicked around the idea for a while and this year Danny called me and said, ‘Hey remember that thing we were talking about?’ and I told him I remembered. Then he seemed a little shocked and asked me again, ‘You know, that Thanksgiving thing?’ and I told him that I did remember,” explained Stibeck. “I think he was surprised I remembered. He then says to me, ‘I think it’s time we do it with the economy this way, Racine having such a high unemployment rate, the recent murders and people losing jobs.’ I agreed and told him it was time to make it happen.”
p.3A11-25-10Dennis Brim, left, a volunteer, entertains other volunteers including J.J. McAuliffe, center, and Bev Hicks as he dances to music and delivers more food to the food line at Festival Hall in Racine on Thursday, Nov. 25. They were among more than 200 volunteers who served dinner in an effort coordinated by Racine businessmen Dan Johnson and Ray Stibeck. (Catholic Herald photo by Allen Fredrickson)
With energy, enthusiasm, food and volunteers, the most difficult feat was finding a facility large enough to house the event. After the City of Racine and the company that manages Festival Hall agreed to donate the space, they were set.

“We are making everything from scratch,” said Stibeck. “There will be no instant anything in this dinner. Everything will be home cooked, but on a massive scale and free to all. We will also be using real dishes, because we didn’t want people to feel like it was just for certain people. If you are ready to lose your home, this dinner is for you. If you are a different race or have different beliefs, this dinner is for you. If you don’t have anyone to share Thanksgiving dinner with, it is also for you. We just want to come together and be thankful and use this day as a way to care for each other.”

A lifelong Catholic, Stibeck credits his grandmother, Leona Stibeck, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish, Racine, his parents and his relationship with God for his desire to give back.

“My faith is very important to me, and for both Danny and I, we believe in giving back and doing the right thing,” he said. “The morals and learning what it means to be a Catholic started when I was baptized as a baby and continues now at the parish my wife and I attend, St. Peter in Kenosha. I think that as Catholics, we need to be about helping people out – I just didn’t expect it would be of this magnitude.”

In between taking reservations and speaking to area businesses, Stibeck answered several calls from his sobbing grandmother, who said she was shocked when she learned what her grandson was planning.

“She was calling me all day Friday, crying,” he said. “She goes to morning Mass and the priest came up to her and told her about what we were doing. She wanted to know how we came up with this idea and I simply told her that we wanted to do something for the community because we were so fortunate to have our own businesses in such a poor economy.”

With the help of Stibeck’s office manager, the friends came up with the name, “Dan and Ray Rendering Thanks,” as a title for their non-profit company. The generic name sanctions the possibility of additional volunteer efforts for the future.

“We didn’t want to lock this in just for Thanksgiving,” said Stibeck. “We are hoping to expand to maybe something for Christmas, or for other times of the year. We aren’t sure yet what we want to do, but we would like to help the needy, or Children’s Hospital – whatever the need might be. We did all of this off the cuff – this planning has only been going on for about three to four weeks, and basically we are just shooting from the hip.”

The efforts of Stibeck and Johnson are a breath of fresh air in a city dealing with staggering unemployment, gang wars, murders and effects of the current economic downturn. They are encouraged that despite the bad news, a community can draw together and make something good happen.

“There is still good out there,” said Stibeck. “Despite all the bad, we need to keep the faith and believe that there is a purpose and reason as to why things happen. We don’t always understand it, but there are good people out there who care about others and still want good for the community. We are so grateful to the community, our neighbors, family and customers and hope our efforts will bring us all closer.”

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