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Soup Kitchen
A Closer Look

Giving Thanks and Giving Back

Story by Teresa Nguyen

November, 2019

“You give but little when you give of your possessions.
It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
~ Kahlil Gibran

Thanksgiving is a time of family gathering together, the warmth of “home” and tantalizing smells of deliciously seasoned dishes and sweet treats. It is a holiday of rest, of meaning, a time for sharing time with our loved ones and friends. It is a period of true belonging and is not only for giving thanks but also for giving from our hearts, whether it be in the form of money or talents or time to those who are less fortunate. In today’s world, the need for purposeful time set aside for kindness and meaning in life is greater than ever. This quiet, but special holiday is nearly 300 years old, yet all cultures around the world stress the importance of giving thanks for our many blessings. 

According to a brief essay on the State Historical Society’s website, Thanksgiving was an evolving holiday throughout the westward expansion. The meaning and purpose of the feast changed since that pilgrim harvest festival in New England’s chilly autumn of 1621. Its significance carried it from governors of colonies to the territories and new states, each one setting aside a date on the calendar to give thanks.

In 1830, just six years before Mr. Janes settled along the Rock River, the territory’s governor, Lewis Cass, declared the last Thursday of November for Thanksgiving.

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Sketch of Abraham Lincoln
by Teresa Nguyen

But it was actually a woman in the middle of that century, Sarah Josepha Hale, who led a national campaign to set aside this day for gratitude and family. Her work paid off and Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday on October 3, 1863! We can all be thankful for Ms. Hale!

Fast forward to today. Our city's population has grown from just a dozen or so settlers to over 64,000! With that growth comes changes in society and in our economy. Life isn’t always a picnic and poverty in Rock County coexists alongside a blossoming downtown and folks cheerfully enjoying their flavored lattes, planning their season’s shopping fun. Thanksgiving isn’t the same for all in Rock County.



In 1969, when our area’s population was around 46,000, a new organization began serving the needs of the less fortunate in our community.


ECHO, which stands for Everyone Cooperating to Help Others, was established. The organization just celebrated 50 years of giving with a wonderful fundraising gala at The Armory. 

In 1975, ECHO began giving out Thanksgiving baskets to needy families. The baskets consist of a turkey, vegetables, instant potatoes and gravy, stuffing, homemade cookies or bars, pumpkin pie and whipped topping, and other miscellaneous items. The needs in our community have grown and this beautiful tradition of helping others continues today. 

If you would like to sponsor a basket, each is $30. You can also simply make donation to ECHO Office at 65 S. High St., Janesville, WI 53548. Make your check out to: “ECHO Thanksgiving” or visit their website at

This Saturday from 8 to noon, ECHO is packing and distributing these baskets at the Rock County Fairgrounds. Volunteers are needed. To help, contact the volunteer coordinator, Fran, at (608) 754-5333.


House of Mercy

Homelessness is an increasingly worrisome issue in our community. A few organizations have developed over the years to address those who find themselves in these dire straits. In the mid-1990’s, the Mercyhealth president, Javon Bea, wanted to help the patients who listed their car as an address. He knew there was a growing need for emergency shelter, so opened the House of Mercy Homeless Center in 1996.

House of Mercy.jpg

According to their website,, from August 1996 through December 2018, the House of Mercy provided shelter and support to more than 6,600 people! 

The house often finds itself in full capacity, so the need is truly urgent. 

This important organization could also use your help as a volunteer or in donations. Visit online or call (608) 754-0045 for a Wish List of needed items.


Or, you can send donations to House of Mercy, 320 Lincoln St., Janesville, WI 53548.


Around 2006, a few, great, community-minded leaders gathered together to address the growing homeless population. By 2007, the first board meeting decided that the group would ask area churches to share their space one week at a time, beginning with 20 inflatable mattresses. The first shelter opened at St. John Vianney. Four more churches came on board, and even more after that.

Eventually, Trinity Episcopal Church allowed the use of the basement space at Ortmyer Hall as a rent-free place for the GIFTS Resource Center. To read the Janesville Area Story on Trinity Episcopal Church:

GIFTS Men's Shelter
Ort Hall.jpg

By 2016, GIFTS was finally able to purchase a building on North Washington Street.

It is due to the generosity and giving of so many in our community that this special, much-needed organization keeps keep going. GIFTS can only help a fraction of the homeless in our community, but without this place, those who benefit from GIFTS' services would also be out on the streets.

To donate or volunteer at GIFTS, visit their website:

Ortmyer Hall at Trinity Episcopal Church
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The Salvation Army has been in Rock County for over 100 years!  The organization has provided a free Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving Day for over 500 people year after year. That is a LOT of giving and we can be thankful for their continued services.


The needs of our community are not only being met in the holiday season, but in every season of the year. To quote Volunteer and Special Events Coorinator, Patrice Gabower, "The people who need shelter and services in the winter are also in need during June and July."

Salvation Army

Among the many services provided by The Salvation Army year round are the Food Pantry, Free Daily Lunch and Emergency Housing Assistance. To volunteer or donate to this local organization, visit their website:

YWCA Rock County


Around 2010, another group recognized the population of homeless youth in our county and Project 16:49 was established to serve their needs. The group’s goals are to secure safe and stable housing for our county’s unaccompanied teens.


The name comes from the amount of time between the end of school one day and the beginning of the next, where unaccompanied youth often find themselves without any support or family.

The organization helps these students to remain in school, graduate and become self-sufficient adults. Beyond housing and case management services, Project 16:49 also provides basic necessities of food, clothing, access to healthcare and more. 

The reality is that the program is sorely necessary. This year we have 250 homeless youth identified in the School District of Janesville. That is 250 too many!

The great news is that most of the students who go through this wonderful program find employment and permanent housing.


Project 16:49 could also use your help! To donate, please visit:


Beyond the homeless shelters and services for the hungry, there are other great non-profits helping the underprivileged in our area. 

HealthNet's 25th Anniversary.jpg



The good people at HealthNet just celebrated 25 years of serving our community!


The organization is dedicated to providing primary health care, dental care and health education at free or at low cost for the under-served residents of Rock County. For many, the cycle of poverty can often be broken with good health, and HealthNet provides such services to those who might otherwise fall through the cracks in society.


To donate or volunteer, please visit their website:


The YWCA Rock County is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. Their services are many and include; domestic violence services, child care, the CARE House for victims of child abuse, and the Immigrant and Outreach program assisting local immigrants.


The work of the YWCA is extremely important, serving those who are often facing real danger.


To donate or volunteer, please visit their website:




This holiday season, as our hearts prepare to give thanks, please do consider the ways we can give back to those in need. Our community is only as great as its people, and the Janesville area has always been known as a place where good-hearted, compassionate people come together in times of change and times of need. We have risen from adversity and we can continue to make our city even better by finding ways to help the needy to get back on their feet, see a new path of productive work and find renewed dignity.

Thanksgiving Dinner

As we enter this season of giving, let us be mindful and grateful for the generosity of so many in our Janesville community. You may have the means to donate, and a fraction of what is in your wallet might go a long way for some. If you're counting your pennies, perhaps you can share a bit of your time or perhaps your talents with those in need.  


With this mindfulness at the holiday season, may we find a spiritual incentive to give back.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and yours!

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