The crowd of people waiting at the Community Harvest on Thanksgiving morning was as big as any Black Friday gathering.
But no one was pushing or shoving. No one was there to shop, or find a deal. Most folks were calmly enjoying a cup of coffee, or sipping hot chocolate while waiting their turn to help.
The estimated 1,000 people arose early this Thanksgiving holiday, and arrived by 8 a.m. at the 22nd Annual Community Harvest in Crystal Lake. They were there for one main purpose: to help the Crystal Lake Food Pantry and those in need.
"This is just so heartwarming and wonderful," said Community Harvest chairperson Judy Pelinski on Thanksgiving morning. "We live in a wonderful, wonderful community. This represents the true meaning of Thanksgiving right here."
Last year, a record 700 people volunteered for the harvest, held every year on Thanksgiving morning. The volunteers packed up more than 97,668 pounds of food, which stocked the Crystal Lake Food Pantry through April, Pelinski said. The 2011 harvest also collected a record-high $45,000.
Today's crowd rivaled last year's turnout.
"I've never seen anything like this," Pelinski said. "Can you believe this?"
Community Harvest is a massive city-wide food drive jointly coordinated by the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce, the Crystal Lake Food Pantry and the Crystal Lake Jaycees. The donations, food and money, benefit the pantry patrons and the Jaycees’ Share-A-Christmas program.
The harvest is a combination of hundreds of smaller food drives hosted throughout the city by participating businesses, schools, churches, the library, civic organizations, scouting troops, and individuals.
At today's event, many of the volunteers had traveled from nearby towns, intent on assisting a good cause.
"I came out to help the community," said Fox River Grove resident Denise Hammer, accompanied by her two teenage daughters, and one daughter's boyfriend. "I didn't make my kids come here. I just told them I was coming, and they offered to help."
Kelsey Marvin, of Woodstock, said she searched online for a worthy Thanksgiving Day charity. Marvin attened the harvest with her parents.
"It's important to help people who need help," the Marvins said. "We've volunteered (in Woodstock) at Christmas time, and wanted to do something today, too."