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Elisa Bolt, co-owner with husband David of Arrowhead Lanes and Western Bowl in Champaign, is shown Wednesday inside Arrowhead Lanes, where they’ll cook and serve a free Thanksgiving meal for visitors in need.

CHAMPAIGN — Around Thanksgiving many years ago, Arrowhead Lanes co-owners David and Elisa Bolt were eating a meal with their employees inside their business when a hungry visitor came in from the cold.

He asked for some of the leftover snacks they serve behind the counter at the Champaign bowling alley. Instead, the Bolts offered to let him to stay for a full meal.

“My heart got touched; so did my husband’s,” Elisa Bolt said. “Now, a lot of people know to come here.”

This act of kindness began a holiday tradition. For more than a decade, the longtime owners of Arrowhead Lanes have offered a free Thanksgiving meal for people in need, whether they’re homeless, away from home or don’t have the means to make one on their own.

Word is getting around.

A Facebook announcement from David Bolt last week was shared more than 600 times, leading to area businesses promising to bring goods and neighbors and strangers volunteering to serve. Their phones are practically ringing off the hook.

“I have a feeling this will be one of the biggest years to date, and we’re looking forward to it,” he said. “It should always be about paying it forward and helping others in their time of need, and if we can provide a family or individual a warm Thanksgiving meal, we are more than happy to do so.”

The Champaign couple has owned and operated Arrowhead Lanes for three decades. They acquired the nearby Western Bowl about 17 years ago.

Elisa Bolt pays employees to help her cook the holiday meal each year, she said. They’ve always accepted donations.

“People will ask what I want them to bring — whatever you want to bring,” she said.

Even folks who need a meal have offered to help out on the holiday, Elisa Bolt said. One time, a man came to their doorstep asking to make a reservation for the dinner, since he hadn’t had Thanksgiving meal in three years. (No reservation is needed.)

“I would love to continue this as long as we live,” Elisa Bolt said. “I don’t care about the money. Money is not everything. Me and my husband love to help other people. This is the only way we can say ‘thank you’ for coming in here and supporting us.’”

On the menu: Thanksgiving favorites like turkey, ham, sweet potatoes and homemade stuffing, plus some chicken and noodles and spaghetti for good measure, Elisa Bolt said.

“It’s going to be a lot of food,” she said. “I hope we don’t run out.”

She bought about 500 plates just in case. The meal will be served starting at 5 p.m. Thanksgiving Day inside the bowling alley at 1401 N. McKinley Ave.

Ethan Simmons is a reporter at The News-Gazette covering the University of Illinois. His email is esimmons@news-gazette.com, and you can follow him on Twitter (@ethancsimmons).

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