I agree with John Hubbuch that folks looking to volunteer should seek service that will be personally satisfying. [Some words of advice for a would-be volunteer, Viewpoints, April 28] But I was saddened by his characterization of the local food pantry – particularly his claim that food pantry clients were not grateful. I’m not sure what kind of gratitude he was expecting. I work at the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry and I can tell you I experience gratitude – deep, profound gratitude – every day.

I see people at one of the worst times in their lives. No one dreams of one day being able to come to a food pantry. Some people are in shock that they have ended up here. Some are worn down by years of grinding poverty. Sometimes their stress is so palpable it’s like an anxiety shield surrounding them and enveloping anyone who comes near. Sometimes Sunday manners are not on display. But not grateful? No way.

Sure, once in a while I get a hearty “thank you!” or “God bless you!” or even a bear hug. Usually people are not so demonstrative in their thanks, but it is there. I see gratitude in a shy smile, in eyes that widen and light up when I hand over three large bags of groceries. I see it in a perceptibly straighter spine and in a lighter step leaving the pantry – despite carrying that heavy load of groceries – than when they came in the door. Stressed-out people may not be effusive, but they are profoundly grateful for our work.

Every day I see people at rock bottom. But I see more. I see the indomitable resilience of the human spirit refusing to give up. And I see the kindness of total strangers reaching out to help just because someone needs it. I am grateful for that.

Michele Zurakowski
Director of operations,
Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry

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