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'It's really self-rewarding' | Galesburg Steak 'n Shake owner cooks up free Thanksgiving meals

The local owner bought and cooked enough Thanksgiving food for 100 people. She then spent her holiday handing it out, in what she hopes will become a new tradition.

GALESBURG, Ill. — This Thanksgiving, the Galesburg Steak 'n Shake opened its doors for a free holiday meal giveaway, sponsored and spearheaded by the restaurant's owner, Dolores Cantu, and her family. 

The family began prepping for the event around 2 a.m. on Thurs. morning, cooking up enough food for around 100 people. 

All of those plates were loaded up and handed out to community members from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. on Nov. 25. 

There were all of the holiday classics, including seven turkeys, nine hams, mac and cheese, gravy, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes, stuffing and rolls, as well as some unconventional dishes, like a Thanksgiving cake. 

Cantu said her family was moved to host the event after last year's holiday, when the restaurant was open for normal business. 

"Last year, with Covid, a lot of people would come here," she said. "They'd come through our drive through and be like, 'I have no where to go, so you'll see me five more times.'" 

By hosting the event at her restaurant, Cantu said it was a familiar, warm, inviting place for the community to stop in and enjoy their holiday. 

"It's just kinda to give back to everyone and so they have places to be. Somewhere nice to be, somewhere warm, something welcoming and family-like," she said. "For people who don't have anywhere to go or no one to cook with or cook for them." 

She also noted that it was the perfect location to cook all of the food, so community members wouldn't have to worry about the prep or clean up. 

"Food pantries give out canned goods but they don't always provide anything to help make it, or just the warmth of the family," said Cantu. "Two people aren't gonna cook a whole Thanksgiving meal for themselves sometimes, so this gives them the option of hey, let's just go here. No mess, no hassle, no cooking." 

After all of the hours of work her and her family put into the giveaway, Cantu called it more self-rewarding than anything else, saying she just wanted to give back however she could. 

"I think if this does well, we'll continue to do it every year," she said, also already planning for a big Christmas giveaway as well.