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Pantry volunteers provide Thanksgiving meals for Evergreen Park residents in need

  • Written by Joe Boyle

While most families are preparing for their annual Thanksgiving Day meal, some local residents are finding it difficult to pay rent and mortgages let alone sit down for a holiday dinner.

But volunteers at the Evergreen Park Village Food Pantry do their best to lessen the load that these families carry. Mary Ann Diehl, who has served as the director of the village pantry for the past four years, said the need is greater at this time of the year.

“It’s mainly because of the holiday season it increases,” said Diehl, who was trained by Jolene Churak and became the director after she died. “We get a lot of help from schools, businesses, organizations and the Boy Scouts. The Evergreen Park Seniors always mention us at their meetings for people to donate. Local school districts are a great help along with the local parochial schools. It’s a real community effort.”

Residents and local organizations can drop off items from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Fridays at the village pantry, which is located in the old Howatt Fire Station at 2700 W. 98th Place in Evergreen Park. Diehl said residents and community and business leaders can also drop off food from 2 to 4 p.m. on Fridays.

Diehl added that food items can be dropped off from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Evergreen Park Community Center, 3450 W 97th St.

But this past week, volunteers worked to collect canned goods and vegetables for Evergreen Park residents who are in need. Volunteers include Evergreen Park Trustee Carol Kyle, Gerald Lindquist and Rebecca Falzone, who on Friday afternoon were collecting turkeys, assorted canned goods, vegetables and cranberry sauce to provide Thanksgiving meals. Cathy Aparo serves at the vice president and Patrick Bagley is the treasurer.

“Many of these people come because they are suggested through some churches and some other organizations,” said Evergreen Park Mayor James Sexton. “It has grown over the years and there is always a need out there. And it is probably more than ever because, well, that’s just the world we live in now.”

Despite a steady rain, vehicles lined up along Washtenaw Avenue that extended for two blocks waiting for turkeys and other food on Saturday morning. Volunteers would come to greet the motorists and reminded them to stay in their vehicles as they fulfill their requests. Volunteers then bring the food and open the back seat to place the items. One vehicle leaves and is replaced by another over a two-hour span despite the rain.

“I believe we gave out 130 turkeys and canned goods,” said Kyle, who has been a village trustee since February of 1988. “But this did not surprise me. It has been like this in previous years.”

It has been a good week for the village pantry. Diehl received a life-size $10,000 check in September from TJ Maxx during its grand opening festivities at the new Plaza. TJ Maxx rewarded the village pantry, which allowed them to use their facility in August to sign up residents for jobs at the store.

Kyle, who has been a volunteer at the village pantry for the past five years after retiring from teaching, said the money will go to good use. The village pantry officially received the real check this past week.

“Yes, we have talked about it,” Kyle said. “We want to buy a new free freezer and a refrigerator with new shelving units.”

The village pantry was established by a coalition of churches, village administrators, community organizations and Evergreen Park resident to assist residents who may find themselves temporarily unemployed or in an emergency situation caused by unemployment. The village pantry opened in September 1981 and has served over 5,500 families, distributing food in excess of $620,000.

“I was on the board for the Evergreen Park Village Pantry years ago,” Sexton said. “And then that’s when we decided to move it to the old fire station. It gives them a little more privacy. There is always a need out there. People in between jobs and some people are out of work.”

The village pantry is intended to serve the residents of Evergreen Park. Those in need may visit the pantry during the hours of operation. If further or immediate assistance is needed, contact the local church, village official or Office of Citizens Services. Depending on family size and food available, a pantry volunteer will distribute enough food for at least one week.

“They do wonderful work and they are all volunteers,” Sexton said.

Diehl, a lifelong resident of Evergreen Park, said the program is beneficial to the community.

“We average 25 to 35 families per week,” Diehl said. There is a need out there. It’s very rewarding and the fact you are able to help somebody makes you feel good.”