Eileen is a star volunteer at Care for Real, a 501c3 nonprofit providing food six days a week through pantry locations in Edgewater and Rogers Park in Chicago. Having volunteered every week since May of 2021, she is an outstanding example of someone who devotes her time to a causes she is passionate about – helping unhoused individuals get the goods they need, and fighting food insecurity in her community.
Originally from Boston, Eileen has been volunteering for most of her life. She moved to Chicago right before the COVID-19 pandemic began to be closer to four of her five children. As soon as she got her first COVID-19 vaccination in 2021, she began her Chicago-based volunteering.
“I instantly liked the place, I liked the spirit of the place,” Eileen says. “There are 12 people there – it’s mostly staffed by volunteers. It’s an enormous task to pick up this food every week and sort it. When I started, I was volunteering twice a week and now I volunteer five days a week, around 20-25 hours.”
Eileen is a vital member of the volunteer team at Care for Real, which was founded by a priest and a rabbi who saw a need, launched a short-term project and then grew into a nonprofit organization with far-reaching impact. Eileen does a variety of hands-on work at Care for Real, including setting up for food distributions, problem solving around issues that arise with clients and participating in special projects and events. She is also responsible for team training and welcoming and registering clients.
“I really love working with recent immigrants,” she shares. “We’ve had so many people come from Ukraine, Mexico, Central America, Asia, Western Africa. It’s just an ever-changing population. As a volunteer, you get to see the little kids come in with their moms and dads, then eventually start kindergarten. My passion is driven by seeing the regulars, getting to know the families.”
Many of Care for Real’s clients hail from environments that don’t require the heavy winter clothing that life in Chicago calls for. So part of Eileen’s volunteer work is organizing the winter coat distribution, which in 2022 provided over 1,000 new winter coats to adult and child clients.
Having raised five children, taught for most of her life and participated in other volunteer efforts, “being busy” is Eileen’s preferred state. She enjoys being able to use her time and talents to help her community in any way she can. And food insecurity is a particular area of interest for her, especially in these times of inflation where she sees the direct impact on families.
“Care for Real is a remarkable organization and it’s an honor to be able to volunteer and serve the clients we do,” says Eileen. “The rise of food insecurity – especially the difference in the last 6 months – is mind-boggling. It’s so needed! What I admire about Care for Real is that it’s all about serving the clients’ needs. The clients come first. You can build relationships, there’s trust. That’s very important to me.”
Eileen encourages anyone who wants to volunteer to give it some time. “At most organizations, there are many different tasks to do, but sometimes you have to get into an organization to find that place for yourself. Give it a few weeks, and then you’ll find out whether it’s for you, and whether you like working with the population.”
She also cautions people not to jump in “both feet first,” in order to avoid burnout. “Search for volunteer opportunities the same way you look for a job. Envision yourself in that physical space, and see if that environment speaks to you. Could you spend a lot of your time here? It’s also important to be able to grow in a volunteer opportunity, to feel challenged and utilize your talents.”
Eileen is shining light in her community, having gotten involved with volunteering as she’s built her life and home in Chicago. She is certainly an inspiration to others who want to share their gifts with the world through volunteering!
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Eileen? Find local volunteer opportunities.