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Illinois comptroller brings turkeys and hope to Cairo


Friday, November 19, 2021  |  Article  |  Marilyn Halstead

Comptroller (21)

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza made a promise that Cairo would never be forgotten.


On Thursday, she visited the city and helped a couple of organizations with food for Thanksgiving.


Her first stop was at the Cairo Women’s Shelter. The shelter provides temporary housing to women and children and serves domestic violence survivors.


Jeanine Woods, director of the center, said they served about 400 people last year. She added that it is important to note that number included a small percentage of men who were survivors of domestic violence, as well as the women and children.


“It’s the holiday season, and the news tells us to expect higher prices,” Woods said. “Some of us will have a big feast that will last several days, but other only have food for one day.”


For some, Thanksgiving dinners is dependent on hard working volunteers at Midwest Food Bank.


Mendoza brought the center food to fix their Thanksgiving dinner at the shelters in Cairo and Metropolis. Woods thanked her for the donation.


Mendoza’s second stop in Cairo was at Arrowleaf’s Cairo location. The Laborers' Local 773 (LIUNA), Illinois Sen. Dale Fowler and Illinois Rep. Patrick Windhorst helped distribute turkeys, hams and food to make side dishes like dressing. Those picking up food also got a box of Krispy Kreme donuts.


Illinois State Comptroller Susana Mendoza greets residents as they arrive to pick up turkeys and canned goods as part of the fifth year of the food distribution program organized by the comptrollers’ office on Thursday in Cairo.


Byron Hetzler

Mendoza told the crowd at Arrowleaf that she missed last year due to COVID-19, but her reason was much more than staying safe. On Nov. 11 that year, her brother had a cough. He was admitted to the hospital two days later with COVID-19 and was hospitalized for 72 days.


She told them that her brother pulled through but suffered medical issues from the disease.


“I’ve seen up close and personal what happens when you don’t protect yourself from COVID,” she said. “I’m here to bring some happiness and spread cheer, but I also brought a vaccine van with us. I don’t want anyone to go through what we did.”


Mendoza said her family, mom, husband, brother and her son as of last week, were all vaccinated. She urged everyone in Cairo to stop in for a vaccine, saying Alexander County had the highest unprotected rate in the state.


She also talked about the new port project going in to the Cairo area, saying it will revitalize the area. She praised Gov. J.B. Pritzker for supplying $40 million to start the project this year, a project championed by Sen. Fowler.


Mendoza added that coming to Cairo demonstrated being in a partnership with Republic colleagues works. She also praised Laborers Local 773 for their partnership with her office.


Fowler thanked Mendoza and her staff for taking their time, effort, passion and energy to come to Southern Illinois and for supporting the port project. He also thanked Krispy Kreme in Marion for their “great treat for the residents” of Cairo.


“It’s phenomenal to work with LIUNA and Krispy Kreme of Marion. It’s also great of the comptroller to come. This is what’s special about Southern Illinois. We’re making the holiday brighter and pretty special.”


This was Windhorst’s first time attending the event, which has gone on a number of years. He thanked everybody.


“We appreciate the comptroller making the effort to come to Southern Illinois and appreciate her showing concern to our region,” Windhorst said. “While we’re different political parties, this event isn’t political.”


Jerry Womick of LIUNA 773 said this is an annual event where they partner with the comptroller to help people in Cairo’s food dessert. Funding comes from the Laborers Care Foundation.


Sherrie Crabb, CEO of Arrowleaf, said the event has been held for about five years. Today, they were serving more than 160 families.


"I wish we could serve more. Cairo is a food dessert, which means they don’t have access to food. There is a great need, high poverty and lack of jobs,” Crabb said.


Arrowleaf also gave away free coats for children during the event.


“It’s wonderful all the different entities coming together including LIUNA 773 making food possible. Arrowleaf giving away coats and offering vaccines,” Cairo Mayor Thomas Simpson said. “It’s wonderful when people come together to help Cairo.”


Mendoza added that it is heartwarming to some to Southern Illinois.


“Southern Illinois is a very special place. This part of the state feels forgotten,” Mendoza said.


She hopes the port project will be the beginning of many new things to come, like jobs and businesses.


“If the state of Illinois can recover, we can start a recovery effort for Cairo, too,” Mendoza said.


Donations to Cairo Women's Shelter can be sent to P.O. Box 911, Cairo, IL 62914. Donations can be made to Arrowleaf at myarrowleaf.org.