My First Experiences as a Volunteer at a Chicago Food Pantry

“Can we help you?” she asked me, as she walked briskly from the registration area to an area set up with shelves and tables, laden with food. When I told her that I was there to volunteer for the first time, she told me that she had been told nothing about it, and that I would have to wait.  That was my first experience volunteering at the local food pantry.

A short while later, I was given my first assignment—the Clothes Closet. The Closet contains racks and shelves of donated clothes, shoes, linens and home goods.  Items are available for free for clients of the food pantry. Part of my job that first day was to look through bags of donated goods and determine what to keep for the Closet, and what to get rid of.  I had to get rid of many items.  Stained, dirty, ripped or well-worn items are not made available to food pantry clients; if you would be ashamed to wear something due to its’ condition, don’t donate it to the food pantry.

Some retail stores (such as H&M, ) accept well-worn clothing for recycling.  On this, my first day, I was paired with another volunteer who had worked the Clothes Closet for several years.  Time went by quickly; I soon logged out and headed home.

For my second day of volunteering, my assignment was the pantry/daily table.  The daily table consists mostly of different kinds of produce, some sweets, and bread.  I was paired with an experienced volunteer, a senior-aged woman.  She was in charge of sweets and bread, and I had the produce.

As clients came by our table, they gave us a slip of paper stating how many people were in their household.  I was given a ballpark figure of how much of each item to give, but it was my decision based on what I had left.  For example, I had been told to give up to four oranges per household, but there were plenty, so when a woman came to my table shopping for a household of six, I gave her six (or seven).  Most of the clients were appreciative.  A few were pushy.  What I mean to say is, they were people, just like the rest of us.

On the third day of volunteering, I worked the registration desk.  I learned a great many things this day.  I learned that a person’s financial state can change in the blink of an eye, and the appearance, demeanor, and education level of an individual needing assistance from a food pantry can vary remarkably.  I was pleased to discover that if a person notifies the registration desk that he/she is homeless, a box is checked that lets workers at the food tables know to give them items that don’t need to be cooked, and items with pop-tab lids, so they don’t have to specifically ask for these items.

If you are in Chicago and need help with food, contact the Greater Chicago Food Depository; they can help you find resources close to your home.  Bring a photo ID, a rolling cart, and some bags for carrying food when heading to the food pantry.  Many food pantries, including the one where I volunteer, offer cat and dog food on a limited basis for individuals who need help feeding their pets, as well.

I am now a scheduled volunteer at my local food pantry.  I enjoy the work.  Over 90% of the workers at my pantry are volunteers.  I was told to wait the first time I came to volunteer because clients have a limited time in which to receive food, and I had come right in the middle of that time.  Time, money, and resources at the food pantry are centered around clients’ needs—there is not a lot of time for workers to socialize, because there is so much to be done.

This works just fine for me.  If it works for you, try volunteering at your local food pantry.  A haiku about working at the pantry:


Here, let me help you.

In this plastic bag I have

Food for your children.


Sweet pea seeds soaking in water

Sweet pea seeds soaking in water

Today in Chicago, it is 42 degrees and raining.  Last night, I soaked my sweet pea seeds, so if the rain lets up, I will plant them.

Very pleased at the moment with Park Seeds because not only was the seed quality good, but the 25 seed pack contained 31 seeds!

Sweet pea seeds can take the cold, and can be planted as soon as soil can be worked in spring.

Keeping up with my New Year’s Resolution, I have started watching “Master of None” (Aziz Ansari) and some Hannibal Buress stand-up for comedy, and for cartoons, I have watched “The Boondocks” and “Archer” with my hubby (not suitable for children, but funny and thought-provoking) and “Bob’s Burgers.”

I am enjoying my resolution—how many people can say that?

The tulips are showing, and a few of the daffodils (a later blooming variety) are starting to push through

The tulips are showing, and a few of the daffodils (a later blooming variety) are starting to push through

I was remembering recently about a book that my husband read to my children so often that we all knew it by heart.  I know that my mother can quote several long poems by heart, and I have a friend who has memorized all of the books of the Bible in order.  In the comments, leave a note about something that you have memorized.  Enjoy this rainy day!


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