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Hunger Beat

Across Cook County, food pantry volunteers share what motivates them

Throughout the Food Depository’s network, volunteers are selflessly working on the front lines.

Every day, amid crisis, countless volunteers join our 700 community partners – food pantries, soup kitchens, shelters and similar programs – to help families put food on the table. None of our work would not be possible without them. This April, National Volunteer Month, the Hunger Beat shares just a few of their stories:
Araceli Pizano
Volunteer Araceli Pizano at Sanad Social Services food pantry

Araceli Pizano at Sanad Social Services food pantry. Photo by Lou Foglia for the Food Depository.

The first time Araceli Pizano visited Sanad, it was to help her aunt connect to social services. During that visit, the Chicago Lawn nonprofit’s founder, Fatima Abueid, asked Pizano if she wanted to come back and volunteer. “She pulled me in,” Pizano, 38, said jokingly. More than a decade later, she’s been regularly volunteering with Sanad’s food pantry ever since.
“I like it,” she said. “I feel like it’s part of me.”
Pizano, who’s lived in Chicago Lawn most of her life, makes herself useful however she can during her hours at the pantry. She pre-packs the grocery bags. She registers the families that arrive to pick them up. And, alongside the rest of the team, she distributes the food from tables set up next to Sanad’s building on the corner of West 63rd Street and South Spaulding Avenue. The pantry serves about 150 people each week. But Pizano remembers the tidal wave of need she and the other volunteers witnessed in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. There were weeks where they regularly served more than 1,200 people. That need – both then and now – is what keeps her doing this work. “If it wasn’t for us and the Food Depository, all these people, where would they be going?” she said. “What would they be doing?”
The Walter Family
Volunteering can be a family affair. The Walters – Meredith, Lee and Violet – have been helping out at Brookfield’s Share Food Share Love food pantry for nearly six years. At the time, Meredith and Lee wanted to find something they and their then-6-year-old daughter could do together as a family.
(From right) Meredith, Violet and Lee Walter at the Share Food Share Love food pantry

(From right) Meredith, Violet and Lee Walter at the Share Food Share Love food pantry in Brookfield. Photo by Kenneth Johnson for the Food Depository.

“She jumped in,” Meredith recalled about Violet. “She would work with people. She would hold people’s hands and walk them around. It helped bring her out of her shell.” Their time spent at the pantry each month has not only become a good bonding and learning experience for the three of them. It also gives them a chance to bring a warm, comforting touch to families facing food insecurity, said Meredith, who works as a nurse practitioner during the week. Growing up in a family of farmers, Meredith likes talking with guests about the foods they select and what they plan to cook with them. Sometimes, they’re able to swap recipes, she added.
“Just treating people like people (is important),” she said. “If you utilize social support systems, it’s too mechanized sometimes. It’s nice to personalize it.”
When asked what she enjoys most about volunteering, 12-year-old Violet’s answer was simple: “Just helping people,” she said.
Larry Page
Larry Page has spent his whole life as a member of Coppin A.M.E. Church on the city’s South Side. He was christened there in 1953, at 1 years old. He also participated in its Boy Scouts troop and youth choir. Now 69, he continues to be involved – as a volunteer for Coppin’s food pantry.
Larry Page checks in guests at the Coppin Community Center food pantry

Larry Page checks in guests at the Coppin Community Center food pantry. Photo by Mateo Zapata for the Food Depository.

Page, who retired from a nearly four-decade teaching career in 2012, started volunteering around the same time. Service has always been a part of him, he said. In addition to teaching elementary and middle school students, he also coached school basketball, volleyball and track teams. “It’s something I’ve been doing for years,” he said about being involved in the community. Due to the pandemic, Coppin’s pantry closed its doors for more than a year until Page and other volunteers could get vaccinated against COVID-19. As soon as services resumed, , Page was volunteering again. “People missed it,” he recalled. “A lot of people depend on us.” It feels good to help those in need, Page said. The desire to do so stems back from the upbringing he received from his parents and the church community. “That’s how we were raised – give back,” he said.
Samira Juwayyid
For Samira Juwayyid, volunteering isn’t a solo act. She enjoys recruiting family members to join her at her local food pantry. “I try to drag all of my family members,” the mother of four said with a laugh. “If my son has a day off from college, I say ‘it’s pantry day.’ He actually enjoys it too.” Juwayyid, 55, lives in South Suburban Bridgeview, not far from the Mosque Foundation. The longtime Food Depository partner serves hundreds of families each month.
Samira Juwayyid poses in the waiting room at the Mosque Foundation's food pantry in Bridgeview.

Samira Juwayyid poses in the waiting room at the Mosque Foundation's food pantry in Bridgeview. Photo by Lou Foglia for the Food Depository.

Tuesdays, the Mosque Foundation’s distribution day, is Juwayyid’s favorite day of the week.
“I feel so fulfilled being able to come and help out,” she said.
Juwayyid’s been volunteering for the last 10 years. She’s seen the pantry evolve from a small storefront space where volunteers distributed food outdoors – rain, snow or shine – through the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, they’re in a new, more spacious building on South 76th Avenue. She’s excited about the change, which allows guests to come back inside to choose their own groceries. She’s hopeful it will help them best serve more of their neighbors in need. “I feel like we help out a lot of people,” Juwayyid said. “I’m hoping that we do. You just have to make everyone feel comfortable and not embarrassed to be here.” For those interested in giving back, find a partner site near you by using our Find Food Map and ask about volunteer opportunities. Or, sign up for a volunteer session at the Food Depository.  

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