Obama Volunteers at a Chicago Food Bank
Tom DeFrank of the New York Daily News was today's pool reporter covering Barack Obama's visit to a food bank, after the president-elect held a news conference announcing more members of his economic team. He writes:
Exiting the podium after meeting the press, Obama was asked his plans for tomorrow and replied that he and Michelle are hosting "a whole bunch of people" at their home.
Five minutes after the press conference concluded, the President-elect left the Hilton at 10:08 a.m. and arrived at his home 11 minutes later. The motorcade departed again at 10:55 with Michelle and the girls in tow and arrived at 11:03 at Saint Columbanus Catholic Church, a South South parish that operates a food bank every Wednesday.
The Obamas were at the church and adjoining school for about an hour. They emerged into a small parking lot between the church and school where the food distribution operation had been set up in a U-shape.
They were all bundled up against the brisk, sunny weather; Michelle and her daughters were wearing toboggan caps; the President-elect had on a brown leather car coat, muffler, chinos and was bareheaded.
The First Family-to-be were positioned at the start of the food line; their job was to hand out white plastic bags filled with fresh chicken. Recipients then moved down the line to receive bags of potatoes, apples, loaves of bread and large boxes of staples including macaroni and cheese, tomato sauce, peanut butter, canned corn, oatmeal, Miracle Whip, mixed fruit and other items.
Obama called out: "We're ready, let's go, bring 'em on in," and the distribution began.
Clearly, those lining up for food hadn't been told they had an important guest helping out this day. Many of them lit up; some shrieked with delight and hugged one or more of the Obamas. One elderly woman bowed; all seemed very appreciative. One and all were greeted with handshakes, hugs, and hearty "Happy Thanksgivings."
The daughters behaved like troopers for a half hour or so before the cold caught up with them, and they retired for a few minutes to warm up.
One sixty-something neighborhood resident named Daryel Namdan was asked how it felt to have Obama there. "It makes me feel very special," he said, before choking up.
Father Matt Eyerman of Saint Columbanus said the church feeds 450 to 500 every week. They start lining up at 5 a.m. to make sure they get a ticket to assure them food.
An Obama aide said the family has been to this particular food bank before and has pitched in here or elsewhere at least two other years.
After about 40 minutes on the line, Obama decided to go say hello to about 200 students.
After shaking hands with the food bank volunteers, he came over to the pool and had this to say:
"The number of people who are getting food this year is up 33 percent. It gives a sense times are tough -- and I think that on Thanksgiving it's important for us to remember there's a need for support.
"These folks were already oftentimes having a tough time, and it gets tougher now." He encouraged all Americans of means to help out however they could. "This is part of what Thanksgiving should be all about," he said.
Asked why he'd brought his daughters along, he replied: "I want them to learn the importance of how fortunate they are and to make sure they're giving back."
Then the family walked into the basement auditorium of the school, where about 200 kids from several grades were seated on the floor. When the Obamas walked onto the stage just befofe noon, the kids went nuts, leaping to their feet and cheering. "How's everybody doing?" he asked, coming down off the stage to mingle and inquire about their Thanksgiving plans.
He inquired about their collective menus, starting with turkey. "How about macaroni and cheese? How about green beans? How about sweet potato pie? How about cranberry sauce?" With each question, his audience erupted in more cheers.
He warmed the hearts of the teachers by delivering an earnest little homily/pep talk about working hard and paying attention. If they diligently pursued their reading and math et al, "There's nothing you can't do. You guys might end being the president some day." Still more cheers.
He took two questions from his entranced charges. A sixth-grader asked what it was like to be POTUS.
"I'm not the President yet. ..Once I'm sworn in I'll let you know."
The second question had to do with his new life. He began by talking about his Secret Service detail. Michelle interjected: "Secret Service, raise your hand." None did. The kids loved the moment more than the squirming, ever-anonymous agents.
In his new life "you don't have a lot of privacy," he told them, mentioning that going to Walgreen's and riding a bicycle are now far more involved than before.
He wished them all a Happy Thanksgiving, shook more hands, and was rolling north at 12:07 p.m. The family arrived home at 12:17 p.m.
Happily, a lid for the day has been declared. Happy Thanksgiving to all.
Web Politics Editor
November 26, 2008; 4:58 PM ET
Categories: Barack Obama
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