After retiring several years ago due to health issues, Pamela Perry didn’t know if she’d ever be able to work again.

Today, through the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s partnership with AmeriCorps, she’s found her “dream-come-true job” providing food to veterans in need.

“To be able to come back to work and serve, it’s so empowering and life-fulfilling for me,” Perry said. “But it’s also allowing me to be able to look into the future and be able to see I have more left in me to give in this time that I have.”

Serving those who served

Perry, 63, is one of the newest members of the Food Depository’s Hunger Action Corps. The AmeriCorps program provides members an opportunity to address food insecurity and its root causes throughout Cook County through hands-on work and professional development. Since 2009, nearly 130 people have completed their AmeriCorps service at the Food Depository.

On the Hunger Action Corps, Perry is the food pantry coordinator at the Jesse Brown VA Medical Center on the city’s Near West Side. Each week, the pantry stretches down one of the hospital’s long second-floor hallways. With the help of a volunteer who serves as a personal shopper, veterans of all ages receive fresh produce, meat, bread, canned goods and other nutritious items to feed them and their families. The pantry serves approximately 150 to 200 veterans each week, according to Don Jackson, a Jesse Brown VA program support specialist who oversees the pantry.

The work is personal for Perry. She served in the Army, from 1975 to 1978, in Germany and several bases across the U.S.

She also knows how it feels to experience hunger.

During the recession in the early 2000s, Perry was laid off from her job as a director for a faith-based organization, causing her to become temporarily homeless. She got by with the help of food pantries in the Food Depository’s network.

“The Food Depository allows people to get good, healthy food from great volunteers, who allow people to keep their dignity, and I wanted to be a part of that,” she said.

Perry understands some of the hardship of the veterans who visit the pantry because she’s been there herself.

“It’s helped me gain a sensitivity, a compassion, for my brothers and sisters in arms that I’m working with,” Perry said.

It’s not just about the food, Perry said. She and the other volunteers treat the veterans with compassion and respect. They serve them food, yes, but also heartfelt conversations and smiles between bags of groceries.

“Who doesn’t want a personal shopper?” Perry said with a laugh. “To brighten their day, call them by their name, smile at them and lift them up.”

Learn more about the Hunger Action Corps.