This Women’s History Month, we honor the amazing women who work at our partner sites, our valued colleagues in the mission to end hunger.
Appointed to serve
Cassandra White, 56, knows the struggle of the guests who come to the food pantry she runs for the residents of Altgeld Murray Homes in Chicago’s Riverdale neighborhood. She’s a resident herself.
White, a single mom to four grown children, is now raising the great-nephew she adopted and is helping to raise her three grandsons. Despite working two jobs – one as a retail assistant and the other as a homecare worker – she still struggles to stay afloat.
White has turned that struggle into inspiration. For the past nine years she’s served on the Local Advisory Council (LAC) for the Chicago Housing Authority, which runs the Altgeld Murray Homes, taking community concerns to the housing management and doing what she can to help resolve them.
Last year she became the LAC vice president, which put her in charge of the food pantry. Now, every Friday morning you can find her standing outside with the pantry guests lined up to pick-up meat, produce, and toiletries. She checks them in and works the crowd, keeping the mood light.
White feels for the moms who come to the pantry. “Trying to keep kids out of gangs and keep them in school, it’s a struggle,” she said. Financial challenges only make it harder.
“Milk is almost six dollars. They have to decide am I going to get my baby milk or take the six dollars and make a meal?”
In addition to dealing with the high cost of groceries, White knows that many of her neighbors do not participate in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), don’t have an income, or don’t have a car to get to the nearest grocery store more than five miles away.
Knowing how vital the pantry and her other efforts are for the residents, she takes her role seriously. “I was appointed to serve the residents, and I was taught that you do anything you’re going to do to the best of your ability.
“As a single mom who raised my four (kids) and now helping to raise my grandkids, sometimes people say to me, ‘Girl, you need to slow down,’” White said. “I tell them I can only rest when I know my work is done.”
A passion for food access
When people ask Lindsey Weston what she does for a living, she often says, “I get paid to hang out with some of my best friends.” Those friends are her clients at Ezra Multi-Service Center, which works to prevent homelessness, relieve hunger, reduce isolation, and lessen any other barriers to self-sufficiency for people in Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood. Weston, 31, is their health and pantry coordinator.
Along with her team, Weston helps clients with public benefit applications, offers health and wellness programs from yoga to art therapy, and provides a weekly food pantry and hot-meal program.
Weston’s work with food access began nearly a decade ago, well before she came to Ezra in late 2021. “I was drawn to this work because I believe access to food (and community) is a fundamental right,” she said.
“I believe those who lack access to food deserve to have a place to turn to meet this need. I believe in these environments folks also have the right to be treated with dignity, kindness, and respect.”
Her work with food access has helped countless others, including Weston herself who has her own struggles with food.
As she spends time with her clients, Weston comes to know them as friends. “The women I have the privilege of serving are mothers, daughters, sisters, friends. They are incredibly resilient and strong,” Weston said.
“I am so privileged to be surrounded by the kindness, humor, generosity, resilience (I could go on) of so many amazing women,” she said. “They inspire me to fight for equity and respect within a world that does not often provide this. I am a better person because of the women I have met at Ezra.”
Feeding women rebuilding their lives
Velma Ramos didn’t even know that domestic violence shelters existed when she went on her first interview at one. She was simply drawn to a chance to use her degree in social work. Ramos, 61, has now spent almost 30 years on staff at Family Rescue, a domestic violence shelter in South Chicago.
Ramos, who is the health manager, and the rest of the staff help women in domestic violence situations secure orders of protection, serve as advocates for them at the courthouse and police districts, and run a housing program that offers clients and their children a safe place to stay for up to two years.
While the women live in the Family Rescue apartments, they’re provided counseling, job assistance, household essentials, and daily prepared meals. Ramos cooks most of the meals for the women, using food they receive from the Food Depository.
“Each week I sit down with the women to discuss weekly meal planning,” Ramos said. “This way the women have the option of choosing what they would like to have on the menu for the week.” For these clients working to rebuild their lives, this element of choice means a lot.
Ramos loves watching the women transform during their stay.
“I’ve been here so long, I’ve seen so many women blossom,” she said. “That’s what’s kept me here so long.”
Ramos likes to inspire the women and help them become independent. She knows firsthand how important that encouragement is. Married at 17 and a mom by 18, Ramos said, “I didn’t know who I was yet.”
Her family encouraged her to go to school, where she found her passion for helping women who don’t have the support network that meant so much to her. Still married to her high school sweetheart 45 years later, Ramos has beaten the odds – and enjoys helping other women do the same.
“As a woman, it hasn’t always been easy,” she said. “But we keep pushing forward and counting our blessings.”
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