Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

The Obamas hand out food at South Side food bank on Wednesday


By Abdon Pallasch
Sun-Times Political Writer

CHICAGO--President-elect Barack Obama and his family spent an hour handing out chickens, potatoes, bread and other Thanksgiving food to poor families on Chicago's South Side Wednesday morning after Obama introduced his latest economic advisors. Then he shook hands with Catholic grade school students ecstatic to see him.

Many of the poor and homeless -- some of whom come for food every Wednesday -- screamed in disbelief as they entered the parking lot of St. Columbanus church at 71st and Calumet Drive and realized the reason they had been wanded by the U.S. Secret Service was because Obama, his wife and daughters, were standing there ready to pass out the food usually handed out by volunteers.

"At Thanksgiving, it's important for us to remember people in need," Obama said. "They told me the number of people coming here is up 33 percent from last year."

About 600 families got food, said Kate Maehr, executive director of the Greater Chicago Food Depository. That's up from 270 families last year, said the Rev. Matt Eyerman.

This is the fourth year in a row Obama has handed out food before Thanksgiving. Last year, he did it in New Hampshire.

"We started seeing increases as early as last year January," Maehr said. "In April, we started seeing double-digit increases.

"Happy Thanksgiving -- hey, don't forget your chicken," Obama said after hugging one woman who screamed when she saw him. Declining to give an autograph, he said, "If I sign autographs, I can't pass out my chickens."

Michelle Obama and their daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7 , stood beside their father also handing out food in the 43-degree weather beneath the elaborate 99-year-old stained glass windows of St. Columbanus church. Obama wore a leather jacket while Michelle and the girls were bundled in winter coats and hats.

Obama said it was important to bring his daughters because, "I want them to know how fortunate they are and that they have to give back," Obama said.

As he finished handing out the chickens, Obama turned and looked up at the windows of St. Columbanus School where the pre-K through 8th graders were furiously waving and screaming from their second- and third-floor windows, their screams barely audible through the closed windows.

"Hey Michelle, look," he pointed as she waved back.

"We've got to go in there and say 'hi' to those kids," he told his wife, much to the chagrin of the Secret Service, which frowns on spontaneity.

The Secret Service asked school officials to bring the school's 300 students down to the assembly hall.

"Secret Service for Barack Obama said we'd better gather the children quickly. It was like a fire drill. They said, 'can they make it down in five minutes?'" Eyerman said. "For Barack Obama, they could make it down in five minutes."

The enthusiasm was off the charts as Obama entered the room and attempted to shake hands with the children as young as five and pre-Kindergarten. Some grabbed onto his leather jacket sleeves and would not let go, trying to climb up in his arms.

"I just wanted to come by and wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving," Obama said. "What I'm thankful for is my family, my friends, my community."

He asked the kids who would be having turkey and macaroni and cheese. Prompted by Michelle, he asked, "Who's getting good grades?"

"Listen to your teachers," Obama said. "One of you might end up being president."

"Who likes math?" Obama asked the students. His daughter Malia did not raise her hand until her mom gave her a playful slap and she raised her hand.

Obama took two questions from the kids. One asked what it was like to be president.

"I'm not the president yet ... once I'm president I'll let you know what its like," he said.

A girl asked him what it was like to have so many people following him.

Obama said he appreciated the members of the Secret Service and the press who he said were missing spending time with their families so they could accompany him.

He and Michelle jokingly asked members of the Secret Service to identify themselves by raising their hands. They did not.


On a cold Derbyshire (UK) afternoon, this warmed my heart!


I love this man. It's hard to contain the emotions I feel when I read stories like this. President-elect Obama is exactly what this country needs right now.

Thank you Jesus.

What a class act this guy is!! I'm so proud to have a President (incoming) with this attitude, and who has this this type of effect on people.

I volunteered at a church food bank one year and am always kind of sorry they ration things so, one of this, one of that. A chicken, though, is at least enough to feed a small family on, unlike the one can of tuna the church I was at were giving out to people. What a crazy moment for those recipients, and for the kids, too! It's probably the closest they'll ever get to a future or present president of the United States!

I heard that Obama also guaranteed the people that they will get first crack at the choice Olympics tickets too!

Bless you Barack, Michelle, Melia and Sasha you all set a wonderful loving example for our nation. I feel happy, content, safe and very very proud that you will be moving to the White House. You are a sterling example of grace, compassion and I am ever so thankful that you are my President. God Speed to you always and forever. And bless you.

I just love this man & his family!They have given us so much to be proud of.We know that President-elect Obama is continuing to put others needs ahead of his own.This is the kinda president that we need to restore this imagine of caring to others around the world!

I cannot express how proud and excited I am that the Obama family will be in The White House!! I was honored to cast my vote for Barack Obama in the Texas primary as well as the general election. America got it right!!! Barack Obama will bring back honor, decency and justice to The White House, he is truly a remarkable humsn being and Chicago has every right to be proud. I am so full of hope and our country again has the promise to be the finest nation on earth. Thank you Barack and God Bless You and your wonderful family!

What a complete 360 degree turn around from the past 8 years in attitude and graciousness.

Why do all of these comments sound as tho they were written by the same person?

same grammar, same syntax, same rythm, same content...

What I would like to know is: Since we know the Obamas have given only to Trinity Church in the past, did THEY PERSONALLY DONATE this food or did someone else pay for it and they just gave it away?

to Disbeliever..
Maybe because most of us appreciate acts of kindness? This is not the first, nor even second, time Barack has donated his time to help others.. & the food was purchased by donations from many.. Could have been yours.. if you cared..

Oh, yes.. how do we know they have given "only" to Trinity in the past.. Barack & Michelle are in their forties & lived several places.. For some, giving is a life long affair..

WOW I just read about this (a little behind on email) and I am so honored to have this man preparing to take office...He and his family rock.

I love that he keeps his kids grounded...

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on November 26, 2008 5:45 PM.

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