The Volunteer Helping to Feed 300 People Each Week

Apr 8, 2021

It's Volunteer Appreciation Month! What a great excuse to celebrate folks like Carol, who truly make it possible for us to Do the Most Good. 

It would have been completely understandable if Carol had decided to bow out for a while. The dedicated volunteer who pretty much runs the Rescue Food Pantry at The Salvation Army’s Oakbrook Terrace Corps Community Center is 78, which puts her in a higher risk category for contracting COVID-19.

The corps staff would have understood if Carol wanted to remain home and safe instead of preparing boxes of food donated by Mariano’s grocery stores and the Northern Illinois Food Bank to give to neighbors in need. But Carol was undaunted.

“There are risks for everything,” said the retired nurse. “I’ve been very careful and taken all the precautions. But people need this help now more than ever.”

No one knows that truth more than Carol and the rest of the volunteers at the Oakbrook Terrace Rescue Food Pantry, which distributes food that would otherwise go to waste. Every Thursday they see clients pull up their curb, eager for the meat, produce, and other foods that will keep these 300 neighbors fed another week. One regular arrives on a bicycle, another on a bus. Carol and her team rework the box of food so it’s as easy for them to transport as possible. And she works closely with another regular who has mental health issues, calming him when necessary and ensuring he gets what he needs.

That attention to detail is one of Carol’s strengths. She saves any gluten-free foods or items suitable for diabetics aside for the clients she knows who need them. And she always saves a sheet cake, when they receive them, for the mom of five teens who says that’s the only size large enough to feed her entire family dessert.

Carol can give this kind of specialized care because she knows the regulars well, usually chatting with them for a few minutes as they would “shop” for items in the rescue food pantry before the pandemic changed the format. Now the clients simply pull up to the curb and volunteers place a pre-selected box of food in their trunk or backseat, keeping contact to a minimum. Carol and her team miss this personal connection. “It’s hard not to see people,” she said. “We grow attached to them.”

"Carol is a great volunteer because she's incredibly dedicated,” said Heidi Kidaguian, a caseworker at the Oakbrook Terrace corps. “She loves our clients and knows their story and the details of their life. She makes her ministry at Rescue Food very personal and cares very much about being here for our clients."

The value of volunteering was instilled in Carol at a young age. “My parents taught me to give back,” she said. When she retired from a career in nursing in 2008, she searched the internet for places to serve and thankfully found The Salvation Army. “I’m really impressed with all they do,” she said. She’s even recruited a few of her friends from the health club to volunteer as well.

“Carol often stops by OBT on other days of the week to ensure everything is ready for the Rescue Food Pantry on Thursdays,” said Cathleen Himes, the resource development director at the Oakbrook Terrace corps. “She is a valuable asset to OBT and a great part of our volunteer team. Every corps needs a Carol!”

For Carol, the camaraderie with the clients and other volunteers is all the reward she needs. “We’re like family,” she said. And the gratitude from the clients, which they express often. “People are so thankful. That’s really enough.”

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