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Hunger Beat

52 Stories, 52 Weeks: 'Grandma'

Linda Harper, right, picks out food at the St. Vincent de Paul Center food pantry. She's assisted by Outreach Program Manager Jenny Mohan, left.
To the kids in the St. Vincent de Paul Center’s childhood development program, Linda Harper is simply known as, “Grandma.”

“I help them grow, teach them not to be mean and to get along,” she said, smiling. “It’s rewarding.”

Linda, 65, volunteers at the center about 20 hours per week. She started back in 2011, when her life took an unexpected turn.

“I was working for the CTA, driving trains, but then I had a stroke,” she said.

Soon after, she had another stroke and had to go on disability. She knew she needed help affording food, so she applied for SNAP benefits, but they weren’t enough. That’s when she started coming to the St. Vincent de Paul Center’s food pantry.

“It helps me out with things I don’t have enough money to get at the grocery store,” she said. “I like the canned fruit. They also give me produce, bread, ground beef and more. It helps me last the month.”

It has been a long recovery from her two strokes, but Linda has overcome the obstacles.

“At first, I could barely walk and speak. My right hand would shake and I had a stutter,” she said. “But now, I’m back at 100 percent.”

As for her role as “Grandma,” she’s just happy to help the children.

“I think sometimes they get confused, calling me grandma at school and then having a grandma at home too,” she laughed. “But that’s okay. I’m just happy to be here.”

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