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Hollywood Casino serves up thousands of meals for Hesed House

Hollywood Casino Executive Sous-Chef LinBotello takes tray some 120 chicken pot pies she baked serve for lunch Hesed House AurorWednesday

Hollywood Casino Executive Sous-Chef Lina Botello takes a tray of some of the 120 chicken pot pies she baked to serve for lunch at Hesed House in Aurora on Wednesday, September 26, 2012. | Steven Buyansky~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: October 29, 2012 6:17AM

AURORA — Every Wednesday and Friday afternoon, the smell of freshly baked chicken pot pies fills the air at the Hesed House homeless shelter, and nearly 100 guests line up to dig in.

The crispy, meat- and veggie-filled pies began showing up about two months ago, when the Hollywood Casino reached out to Hesed House Director Ryan Dowd.

“They said they felt called to feed people,” Dowd said.

But Dowd wanted more than just their money. And casino employees were willing to dish out more than just a meal.

“We didn’t just want their food, we wanted their soul,” Dowd said.

So, twice a week, casino employees, including the food and beverage supervisor, make the trip from New York Street to River Street delivering a truck loaded with food.

On Wednesday, German chocolate cake was served up alongside the pot pies. The meal also included hot coffee and orange juice.

“We’ve had a relationship with (the casino) for a long time, but it’s definitely deepening,” Dowd said.

No longer is the charity limited to off-site clothing drives casino employees now spend time with Hesed House guests.

“Having them over here is really cool,” Dowd said.

Also appreciative of the help is Hesed House’s food ministry coordinator, Debbie Harrington. Harrington usually spends her mornings and afternoons cooking, cleaning and preparing for meals. When the casino decided to take on Wednesday and Friday lunches, it opened up Harrington’s days to do more of what she loves best.

“Having (the casino) here affords me time to have conversations,” Harrington said. “I can build relationships. I can sit down and help someone that needs it.”

And this time of year, there are plenty of people in need, she said.

In her 11-1/2 years at Hesed House, Harrington said she has never seen such a population increase. Numbers have recently hit record highs, she said. Lunch time meals, which are often less crowded, are now packed with familiar faces.

“I don’t know what it is,” she said about the crowds.

While churches come at night to serve meals, it is the noon meal that is often more makeshift. The consistency provided by the casino crew is nice, she said.

“They’ve served a couple thousand pot pies by now,” Harrington said. “The guests love it.”

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