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Former inmate, local organizations celebrate power of giving during annual Thanksgiving meals

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Posted at 3:20 PM, Nov 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-26 12:29:06-05

GREEN BAY (NBC 26) — As someone who spent half of his life behind bars, Earl Hillsberg said he has a lot to be grateful for this holiday.

Out of the last 40 years of his life, Hillsberg said he's spent 33 years in prison. Hillsberg said he's been incarcerated in both the federal and state systems.

"Federal prison is just terribly violent. It's an awful, awful place," Hillsberg said.

When he was released in August, Hillsberg said he struggled to find a place to live. That's when he reached out to Transformation House, a non-profit that provides men with affordable housing while working on spiritual, personal, educational, and social growth. Hillsberg has resided at Transformation House since Aug. 31.

Since living there, Hillsberg has secured a job, remained sober and out of trouble. He said he's even been able to save money, leading him into a position where he can start a new life.

"I feel blessed that I am in the Transformation House and that I'm back in Green Bay," Hillsberg said. "There's a thing going on here that is very special and is really geared at helping guys like me."

On Wednesday, Hillsberg could be found volunteering at the Transformation House 2021 Thanksgiving Dinner, which was free and open to the community.

"I want to be altruistic in giving back. No strings attached," Hillsberg said. "And that's what true giving is."

The dinner featured a traditional Thanksgiving meal, with turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, cranberry stuffing, and pumpkin pie. People could listen to music while they sat and talked with friends.

“It’s very important that we give, no matter what we find ourselves facing,” said Pastor Manuelus Reacco, Transformation House director. ”A lot of the stuff that happens to us could put a negative damper in spirit. When you give, it breaks that. It heals you.”

The Salvation Army of Greater Green Bay hosted its annual Thanksgiving meal Wednesday as part of its Noon Lunch Program. Volunteers baked delicious deserts and set up festive decorations in the Fellowship Hall. They also helped serve the food, which included turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole, and bread.

This year, people could take meals to-go or eat them in-house.

“We know that some people maybe don’t have a place to go for Thanksgiving, or don’t have family to have Thanksgiving with," said Nicole Hanley, Salvation Army of Greater Green Bay marketing coordinator. "So it’s important for us to be able to celebrate the holiday with them and offer this meal to the community for free.”

Here's a list of group's offering meals on Thanksgiving day:

  • New Community Shelter: Lunch will be from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and supper from 5 to 6 p.m. They offer both dine-in and door-side pickup and are located at 301 Mather Street in Green Bay.
  • Northwood’s Apostolic Church: 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Crivitz Village Hall, 800 Henriette Avenue in Crivitz. RSVPs not needed but appreciated at (715) 938-4934.
  • Christ The Rock: In-person dining will be offered from noon to 2 p.m. at The Grand Meridian, 2621 North Oneida Street, Appleton.