Dinner for 200? No problem in La Grange
Sandra Braschler (from left) daughter Alyssa Hackett, minister David Gross, and the Rev. Shawana McGee pack gift bags for homeless children. | Jon Langham~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 18, 2013 1:17AM
LA GRANGE — Guests from morning until night and Christmas dinner for 200 would make any holiday hostess’s head spin.
But the Rev. Shawana McGee of La Grange considers Dec. 25 her mission to be a blessing to others less fortunate, and she has a loyal contingent of families and friends helping out.
McGee runs the Caring Place afterschool program at the Community Center and enlists students and their families to prepare and serve meals, as well as perform in song and dance during a worship service at noon.
Doors to the center, 200 Washington Ave., open at 7 a.m., and a continental breakfast will be served until 10:30 a.m. Dinner follows the service at noon, and an open house continues until 7 p.m. with games and holiday movies.
McGee was sidelined recovering from surgery a year ago, but her plans came off without a hitch through the efforts of hard-working volunteers, and she was able to attend as a guest.
She planned to take a more active role this year, but was again hospitalized in December battling complications from a virus. The setback forced her to slow down and delegate.
“I have a great group of people stepping up,” she said.
To volunteer for the program or make a donation, call (708) 354-2735, or email email@example.com.
The focus of the afterschool program was expanded this year to include children and some adults with special needs, McGee said. Of 37 children who regularly attend, eight have learning disabilities or are on the autism spectrum, including her 11-year-old son, Nathan.
The interactions are enriching between children with and those without special needs, she said.
“There was a 6-year-old boy who taught my son, who’s 11, how to make a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich,” she said. “I basically cried. That’s something I’ve tried for so long to teach him, and then this little kid could do it.”
McGee said the center also offers support for families of children with and without special needs.
“Do you know how exciting it is to have fathers support what we’re doing,” she said. “By getting involved, they’re strengthening their families.”
McGee said she relied on her own family situations in expanding the Caring Place to serve special needs participants, whose families sometimes feel isolated.
“We’re trying to provide a caring place for everyone, so they feel loved and accepted regardless of what challenges they have,” she said.