LINCOLN PARK — Chicago is the hub of the International Tom Hanks Day.
The celebration dates to an all-day movie marathon and has even been recognized by Hanks himself.
Saturday marks the event's 12th year, and this year's Chicago celebration is at Lincoln Hall.
"I always laugh about it, but for sure there's been days that I'm like maybe this has grown too big," said 33-year-old Kevin Turk, who founded the celebration with his college buddies in 2004.
Now Hanks himself sends organizers of the event memorabilia each year, such as mini Dr. Pepper bottles from "Forrest Gump," signed Wilson volleyballs referencing "Castaway," DVDs and a Simpsons cartoon character of himself.
The first year was just six friends watching movies; the second was a backyard kegger; and by the 10th year, the event began attracting about 300 fans.
It wasn't until the fourth year that Turk and his friends made contact with Hanks.
At first it was by way of Hanks' assistant, who emailed Turk and said Hanks had heard of the event and wanted to send some merchandise.
Turk didn't tell his friends or anyone at the party and showed up with the items.
"Everybody lost it," he said.
That year, the founders decided to raffle off the items and donate all the money to Lifeline Energy, a nonprofit for which Hanks serves as U.S. ambassador.
"That's what sealed the deal for Tom," Turk said.
A few years and International Tom Hanks Days later, Hanks invited Turk to New York to take in his Broadway play and meet him backstage.
Hanks walked right by Turk en route to the green room.
"As he's walking out, I go 'hey, Tom! by the way, I'm Kevin," Turk said. "He goes, 'Kevin Turk!' as loud as he can and flicks me in the chest."
Hanks then walked Turk and two friends into the green room where they met another famous Hank, baseball great Hank Aaron.
"It was so great to see Tom Hanks tell the story of Tom Hanks Day to a living legend of baseball. Three jackasses and two Hanks," Turk said.
Turk, who works at Groupon, has steadily worked to expand the celebration over the years, and this year there are parties set in Alabama, Michigan, St. Louis, Cleveland and Austin.
All of the money raised during the parties goes directly to Lifeline Energy.
The charity provides solar-powered and wind-up radios preloaded with educational lessons on health, climate and sustainability to isolated areas around the world.
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The celebration has raised more than $100,000 for the nonprofit.
Hanks is a collector of typewriters, and, a few years into the celebration, sent one from his collection to have attendees at the party type out letters to send back to him.
Each year the organizers ship a packet of a few dozen of the typed letters back to Hanks.
There will be a typewriter at Saturday's event, and anyone is allowed to type out a letter to the "Forrest Gump" star.
Usually, Hanks responds with a typed letter of his own, thanking the organizers for their work.
"Tom has always been known as one of the nicest guys in Hollywood, so we try to do the same thing," Turk said. "I always make sure that people feel welcome.”
Hanks has yet to attend a celebration of himself, but that is the eventual goal.
"It'll happen," Turk said.
This Lincoln Hall festivities Saturday are from noon until 5 p.m. at 2424 N. Lincoln Ave.
Fans of Hanks will be able to buy T-shirts, winter hats and other merchandise as well as raffle tickets for official gifts autographed by the star.
Tickets are $5, and that includes an insulated can holder and drink specials.
If your knowledge of Hanks' body of work is limited, here's a compressed version of every Hanks film by James Corden and Tom Hanks, in just seven minutes.
Don't miss out on a chance to join in with dozens of Hanks' biggest fans in the annual chant of Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks.
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