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The Verdict: Blackhawks make a happy Thanksgiving for less fortunate

by Bob Verdi / Chicago Blackhawks
Mike Kitchen, Troy Murray and Joel Quenneville line up at DuPage Township Food Pantry (Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean).

To celebrate his fifth anniversary with the Blackhawks, John McDonough handed out pies. As President and CEO of this revived franchise, he wore jeans, running shoes and a wide smile while volunteering at the DuPage Township Food Pantry in Romeoville on a balmy Tuesday.

McDonough was positioned at one of six stations stocked with turkeys, vegetables, bread, potatoes and whatever else could fit into yawning trunks from a steady stream of cars. More than 1,300 local families would be assured Thanksgiving meals and beyond, but McDonough specialized in dessert duty. Apple pies, some custard, and pumpkin too.

“This goes on here all year, and the Tuesday before Thanksgiving is always one of our biggest days,” said Shirley Grezenia, manager of the Food Pantry. “But this year, it feels extra special because it is.”

It was special because of a collaborative effort between the Blackhawks and their flagship radio station, WGN Radio AM-720. From 9 a.m. to noon, Bill Leff did a live broadcast from the facility, promoting a spirit of holiday giving to those in need. While automobiles lined up around the block, folks walked up outside to donate food, money or both, a requirement to secure autographs and pictures from Head Coach Joel Quenneville, or broadcasters and former players Eddie Olczyk and Troy Murray.


Blackhawks Team Historian Bob Verdi has covered sports for five decades, including more than 40 years as a columnist and contributor for the Chicago Tribune. He authored "Chicago Blackhawks: Seventy-Five Years" in 2001, was the featured contributor in "One Goal Achieved: The Inside Story of the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks," and has co-authored biographies on Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita.

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McDonough signed a few pucks, too, but besides his assignment near the fresh pastry, his contribution was measured in numbers. Virtually every member of the Blackhawks front office joined the effort, and who would have guessed that three experts in their fields could adapt instantly to new ventures? In the middle of the street, Assistant Coach Jamie Kompon monitored traffic, waving motorists toward Norm Maciver, assistant to Vice President/General Manager Stan Bowman (hamburger buns), after which the flow would be handled by Pete Hassen, senior director of market development and community affairs. You want someone who can be seen in that job, and Pete is tall.

“We wanted to create a professional organization,” said McDonough, who was hired away from the Cubs on Nov. 20, 2007, by chairman Rocky (“I wasn’t going to take no for an answer”) Wirtz. “A professional organization is more than just having games. We are one, from our business operations to hockey operations. They work together. And all of us feel it is important to be part of the community, to give back, to support causes such as this. We are continually trying to be better, because that’s what professional organizations are about.”

Mayor John Noak of Romeoville was there early to coordinate, as were DuPage Township trustees Alyssia Benford, Sheldon Watts, Steve Mikos and Trish Stach. Meanwhile, Bill Mayer, DuPage Township supervisor joined township public relations director Maureen Fox in discussing the scope of Tuesday’s effort.

“Years ago, we gave away maybe 50 meals,” he said. “Today, well, you can see all the people who are coming here. I would rather give away none, if you know what I mean.”

Quenneville was a busy man, as was wife Boo, who dispensed holiday meal boxes purchased from the Northern Illinois Food Bank. Contents within those packages, plus the frozen turkeys and all the extra trimmings available, were sufficient to last families well past Thursday’s holiday. Those were ten-pound bags of potatoes, but as Fox remarked, children will be off from school for a while during the Thanksgiving break and that will necessitate more meals at home. Every recipient in Tuesday’s motorcade pre-registered in October. Thus, by acquiring and presenting a voucher, drivers were part of a seamless operation.

Mind you, there was one vehicle that arrived at the Pantry in a flash, and Kompon firmly yet politely informed him that the line formed well down the block, then around the corner. Waiting time might be an hour or so. Distribution of meals lasted longer than projected, all the better for Dave Eanet, WGN sports director, to recall how he was sent to the Stadium by another radio station many years ago to interview this hotshot rookie just brought up by the Blackhawks: Murray. As Eanet noted, Murray did not seem particularly comfortable when confronted with a microphone. Now, Troy makes a living as an analyst.

“This means so much, you have no idea,” said a lady motorist, her car full of groceries and a child in the back seat as she left the Pantry. “Happy Thanksgiving.”

“You too,” said Maciver. “Have a Happy Thanksgiving.”

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