Lakeshia Hawkins (front row, far right) with other Food Depository AmeriCorps members.
Since 2009, the Greater Chicago Food Depository has been hosting AmeriCorps members through the AmeriCorps State/National Program. The individuals are placed at the Food Depository or in member agencies and are utilized to assist with day-to-day pantry operations, community volunteer recruitment and retention, fundraising and nutrition and health education. The following post is an update from AmeriCorps member Lakeshia Hawkins, who is currently serving at Marillac House Food Pantry on the West Side:

I am completing my first AmeriCorps service year as a volunteer coordinator at Marillac House Food Pantry, a Greater Chicago Food Depository agency that serves the Garfield Park, North Lawndale and Austin communities. Marillac provides a critical service in the community, which has a poverty rate in some areas of more than 40 percent.
During my service year, I’ve seen the need continue to increase in the area, and I’ve also seen the immense impact the Food Depository and Marillac House are making every day. When I started one year ago, the pantry was serving about 70 people per distribution. Now, we see about 150 clients three times a week. In order to address this need, with the Food Depository’s help, we distributed nearly 595,000 pounds of food last year.
On a daily basis I manage approximately 15 volunteers and provide job placement assistance, housing, and food resource information to residents of the community. The volunteers at Marillac are a vital part of ending hunger on the West Side, and in my AmeriCorps year I developed a volunteer pamphlet that gives a brief history of Marillac and describes what potential volunteers would be doing at the pantry.
My AmeriCorps service at Marillac has been a transformative experience. Before joining AmeriCorps, I was working at the food pantry in order to meet the requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, so that I could support my two children. Since joining the Food Depository’s AmeriCorps program, I have gained marketable job skills and have improved my time management and communication skills. I’ve also earned an education award and am now a student at Harold Washington College. I intend to complete my Bachelor’s Degree in business administration within the next two years.

Every day, I see our clients’ smiling faces after they receive food and I know the Food Depository and Marillac have made a tangible difference in their lives. For at least one day, they don’t have to worry about finding their next meal. Because of these programs, the community becomes stronger every day and the quality of life improves. Similarly, the AmeriCorps experience has left an unmistakable mark on my life. I have found purpose and focus. After earning my degree, I plan to open my own food pantry. Thanks to the Greater Chicago Food Depository and AmeriCorps, I have been given the tools to succeed and the means to provide myself and my children with a brighter future.
For more information about the Food Depository’s programs and how you can get involved, visit chicagosfoodbank.org.