Helen Han emigrated from Beijing, China more than 20 years ago.
She now lives on Chicago’s Near North Side in a residential building for older adults, steps away from the LaSalle Street Church.
Twice a month, a group of church staff and volunteers hosts a community market in partnership with the Food Depository. The distributions provide free nutritious food and other essential household supplies for people who live in Han’s building and others nearby that house older adults. She has been helping out for nearly five years, passing out fresh food to her neighbors in need.
“I don’t have much; I just have time,” said Han, 71. “It feels good to use it to help people.”
Han moved into the neighborhood about eight years ago and remembers feeling lonely at the time. She didn’t know anyone in the area and found making friends daunting. Then one day, she remembers entering her building after her daily walk and noticing a line of people forming outside of the church.
After noticing this happening a few more times, her curiosity got the better of her and she finally plucked up the courage to investigate. As she entered the church, she saw an elderly woman struggling to put bulky food items in her cart and instinctively went over to help.
“Neither of us could speak much English, but I could tell the lady was relieved,” she recalled. “That made my heart fill with warmth.”
Han has been volunteering ever since. Han’s desire to help others has also brought some unexpected bonuses. The distributions serve a significant number of Chinese residents, many of whom she has befriended.
“You start to see familiar faces,” she said. “And they like to see my familiar face.”
She said she understands how intimidating and overwhelming it must feel to ask for help, especially in the Chinese culture. Han explained that many are shy to help themselves to the neatly stacked bags of fresh fruit and vegetables lined up on the tables – something Han helps them overcome quickly as she confidently stuffs their baskets with produce.
“It is not customary for us (Chinese people) to accept free food from people who are not family,” Han said. “I tell them, ‘Here, we are all family.’”
Volunteers make it possible for the Food Depository and our network of community partners to serve those facing hunger. 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.