Italian flair added to Thanksgiving meal at Springfield Soup Kitchen

Olive Garden and Soup Kitchen celebrate five years of providing holiday meal.

A Thanksgiving tradition that began several years ago with a tray of lasagna continued this year with a free Italian meal served to hundreds of residents in downtown Springfield.

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Olive Garden and the Springfield Soup Kitchen have been working together for about five years to serve area residents who otherwise might not have a meal on the holiday, said Fred Stegner, who operates the Springfield Soup Kitchen.

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The meal begins with a grape juice toast, and includes trays of lasagna, breadsticks and salad catered and served by the Bechtle Avenue restaurant. The meal may not sound traditional, but Stegner said it sets the soup kitchen apart from similar events hosted locally, and offers a chance for Springfield residents to share a meal. The soup kitchen planned for as many as 350 people to attend, Stegner said.

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“It brings tears to my eyes that so many need this,” Stegner said.

The dinner started several years ago when Jacob Rosales was working both at Olive Garden and volunteering at the soup kitchen, said Jason Jacobs, general manager at the restaurant. Rosales asked to bring a tray of lasagna to the soup kitchen, but the restaurant eventually decided to cater the whole Thanksgiving meal. It’s continued ever since.

Jim Smith, of Springfield, said he’s attended the meal with friends almost every year, and it’s become a tradition.

“Fred’s a heck of a guy,” Smith said of Stegner. “He helps a lot of people.”

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It also benefits the restaurant’s employees, Jacobs said.

“I have some team members who are away from their family,” Jacobs said. “They love the idea they get to go help people.”

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