“I am blessed to be a blessing to someone else.”
That’s how Gerri Crider describes her passion for helping those in need.
Since moving back to the city earlier this year, Crider, 70, has become a regular volunteer at the Food Depository, packing food for households facing hunger across Cook County.
However, nourishing her community is something the retired educator has been passionate about long before walking through the Food Depository’s doors.
“I’ve always felt like it’s my ministry,” she explained.
Before retiring in 2007, Crider spent 14 years working as a principal at schools across the Chicago suburbs and northern Illinois. Prior to that, she spent two decades teaching in Elgin Public Schools. She’s remained active post-retirement, spending several years teaching and mentoring education students at local colleges. Today, she offers life coaching, motivational talks and other self-help designed for women over 50.
Reflecting on her years working with young students, she remembered times when kids would come to school without enough food to eat, hindering their ability to learn. Crider did what she could to help, recalling times she kept a refrigerator of snacks for those in need or started a before-school tutoring programs that also provided free breakfast. More recently, prior to relocating to Chicago in February, she also regularly volunteered at her church’s food pantry in the western suburbs.
Once she made the move to the Hyde Park neighborhood, Crider found the Food Depository and another local food pantry to support. She’s always been passionate about hunger relief, she said, but seeing the increased need caused by the COVID-19 pandemic made the work feel even more urgent.
“You’ve got people who no longer have a job, or maybe they have enough to pay the rent but not enough to buy food for their families and their kids,” she said. “They will go without (food) so their kids have something to eat.”
The struggle to afford food is something that personally resonates with Crider. Growing up on the city’s South Side in a family of six kids, Crider said it was sometimes difficult for her mother to put enough food on the table. Her mother did a variety of jobs, like cleaning houses and sewing, to support the family. They also got by with the help of food stamps, which is now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and their church’s food pantry.
“(My mother) basically had to do what she needed to do – humbled herself to apply for public aid, get the food stamps,” Crider said.
“I remember all of that,” she went on to say. “And my mom knew what to do with some food, to make it stretch.”
Her mother gave back to the community as well, a value that she instilled in Crider and her siblings. It’s also something that Crider hopes to pass along to the next generation through her two daughters, the youngest of whom is a local teacher and the oldest is a petty officer in the U.S. Navy.
Volunteering is a calling for Crider. A religious woman, she referred to “the Great Commission,” a passage in the Bible that called on Jesus’ disciples to do his work on Earth.
“Feed the hungry, clothe the naked … I’m just doing what God has called me to do – whatever the calling is,” she said. “ Volunteering at the food bank, I thoroughly enjoy it. Whatever God has put on your heart to do, do it.”
The Food Depository is in constant need of volunteers to support our mission of ending hunger. Please learn more and register to volunteer today.