From left to right, Guillermo, Sophia, and Cecillya have been volunteering at the St. Ignatius Church food pantry all summer.
Since Elena lost her job five years ago, she has been focused on feeding her children. And her children have been focused on feeding others.
It’s Wednesday, and three of Elena’s children – 13-year-old Guillermo, 12-year-old Cecillya and 10-year-old Sophia – are unloading boxes of food at the St. Ignatius Church food pantry, a Greater Chicago Food Depository member agency in Rogers Park.
The three kids move in unison, as Cecillya unloads a box full of fresh pears from the truck and quickly hands it off to Guillermo. “Pears coming down!” He says, before sliding the box down a conveyor belt into the waiting hands of Sophia, who moves the box to a shelf.
Guillermo has been volunteering at the pantry for two years, while his sisters started this summer. Their motivation for helping out is simple.
“Sharing with other people is better than keeping everything to yourself,” says 10-year-old Sophia, who also organized a food drive at her school two years ago.
Elena teaches her children the value of sharing with others, because she’s familiar with the positive impact kindness can have. She fell on hard times about five years ago when she was laid off from her job at a vehicle repair shop. Before that, she worked 10 years in retail as a store manager. Now, she feeds her family with the help of the food pantry and the $520 per month she gets in SNAP benefits.
“The kids like fruits and vegetables, but they’re so expensive,” Elena says. “Food prices keep going up. Even milk is expensive, and with the cereal the kids eat, we go through milk in just a few days.”
Elena works about 15 hours per week, making $8.75 an hour. Her income barely takes care of the necessities, which is why she turns to the pantry for fruit, vegetables and shelf-stable food for her children.
“The pantry helps feed my children. It helps keep my kids’ stomachs full,” she says. “I try to make things stretch to the best of my abilities and work from there.”
In a few weeks, the children will go back to school. They will be missed at the pantry, but there’s no doubt they will be back next summer.

“Without them, the unloading process would take twice as long,” says pantry coordinator Kathy Morris. “They’re good kids. They make the summer bright.”
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