ABC News’ Matt Jaffe reports:
On Thanksgiving Eve, President-elect Barack Obama, his wife Michelle, and his daughters Malia and Sasha, all bundled up in winter coats and hats, dished out chickens to the needy at a Chicago church, leaving some overcome with emotion.
"The number of people who are getting food this year is up 33 percent," Obama said of the crowds who gathered at the Windy City’s St. Columbanus Church. "And I think it gives a sense — times are tough. And I think that on Thanksgiving, it’s important for us to remember people in need, but it’s important not just during Thanksgiving."
"These folks were already often times having a tough time and it gets tougher now," he added. "So we want to make sure that people that can give, that are able to contribute to the food depository, volunteer, participate. This is part of what Thanksgiving should be all about."
Obama, who noted this was his third year at his hometown food bank, was asked why he had brought his two daughters with him.
"I want them to learn the importance of how fortunate they are and make sure they are giving back," he responded.
Some people at the food bank, where lines can start forming as early as 5 am, were so excited to see the President-elect that they forgot to take their chickens with them.
"Don’t forget your chicken," he reminded them, passing along the Thanksgiving grub provided by the Greater Chicago Food Depository and packed in white grocery bags.
"Very special," said one emotional man, crying as he described what it meant to meet Obama.
The family later entered the auditorium of the church’s school, where they were greeted by a screaming crowd of students in Pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade. And the shrieking only skyrocketed when Obama started rattling off Thanksgiving food staples.
"How about mac & cheese," he asked as the kids roared.
"How about green beans?" he continued. "How about sweet potato fries?"
Then Obama turned to more school-related questions, encouraging the students to work hard and pay attention in class.
"How many people like to read?" he asked. "Everybody likes math?"
If they studied hard, Obama told the kids, "You guys might even end up being the president someday."
One sixth-grader asked Obama what it’s like to be president.
"I’m not president yet. I’ve only been elected president. I’m gonna be sworn in as president on January 20th," Obama replied, as the crowd erupted in applause once again. "Once I’m president, I’ll let you know what it’s like."
One part of the presidency that Obama already knows about — and knows he won’t like — is the lack of privacy, due to constant Secret Service protection.
"Secret Service, wave your hands!" Michelle asked the onlooking officers, drawing loud laughter from the crowd.
"Sometimes it’s kind of strange where you kinda just want to go to Walgreens and pick something up," noted the President-elect.
"I want everybody to have a great Thanksgiving," Obama said, wrapping up his two-question Q & A with the kids.
"I just want you to know that what I’m thankful for is my family and my friends and my community," he concluded. "That’s the most important things."
As he departed, the kids serenaded him with chants of "O-ba-ma! O-ba-ma!"
Their hour-long visit over, Obama and his family returned to their Hyde Park home just past noon local time, where they will spend the rest of the day and tomorrow’s holiday.
– Matt Jaffe