Jerome Pickens could be anywhere on a Friday afternoon, on his day off from work.On a recent, warm April Friday, he chose to be at the Food Depository, packing boxes of food for pantries across Cook County. “I feel like if I do it, I’m showing love,” Pickens said following the volunteer session. “I’m showing what love is. This is love: putting people before yourself, selfless acts.” Pickens, 42, is one of the Food Depository’s longtime, committed volunteers. For the last six years, he’s participated in repacks, distributed food at Fresh Trucks, participated in Hunger Walks, lobbied for anti-hunger policy in Springfield and done other various volunteer projects. Since 2015, he’s dedicated more than 550 hours of his time helping those facing hunger. Pickens, a lifelong Chicagoan, lives in the West Englewood neighborhood on the city’s South Side. He’s always cared about helping others, but he said he had a revelation several years ago after seeing people in his community – rain, snow or shine – waiting in long lines to receive food. It made him realize the need that exists in his own community – both then and now.
“I didn’t know how big the need was until I came here.,” Pickens said. “I just thought, I had to do something.”The staff made him feel welcome after that first volunteer session – and the rest is history. During the pandemic, when food insecurity rates skyrocketed, he remained committed. For the past year, while the downtown hotel he normally works in housekeeping has been closed, he’s been coming in every Saturday morning to pack food. He also works Fresh Trucks whenever he can. To make ends meet during the hotel’s closure, he was doing grocery delivery for those who couldn’t leave the house, like older adults and mothers at home with their children. Pickens has recently gone back to work at the hotel, but he plans to keep regularly volunteering. Pickens is proud to play a role in helping his neighbors, he said, but he doesn’t do it for the recognition. If he needed help, he hopes someone would be there to lift him up. “I feel like it’s what we all should be doing,” he said. “We’re all brothers and sisters, we all bleed the same. We should all be willing to volunteer, help and give back as much as we can. The Food Depository is in constant need of volunteers to support our mission of ending hunger. Please learn more and register to volunteer today.