VSAers help neighbors helping neighbors

Susan Pfeifer was recently searching for a way to get involved in Purpose Day, VSA Partners’ community service program. “I hadn’t experienced Purpose Day at any other agency I’d worked at, and I wanted to find a place where I could volunteer for a weekday,” said Pfeifer, a Senior Project Manager. “I was at my local famers market in Independence Park and came across a booth for the Irving Park Community Food Pantry.”

Though there are many food pantries across Chicago, Pfeifer was drawn to the unique qualities of Irving Park’s. “They really focus on individuals and their families, and the specific needs they have, instead of a cookie-cutter, ‘here’s your pre-packaged bag’ response. If someone’s going there for the first time, the Pantry has skilled volunteers there to interview them and help start the process of signing up for programs like WebSNAP or WIC. Those can be daunting to join, and there’s a lot to understand for anyone in that situation.” She spoke with the Pantry’s Volunteer Manager Lee Stein and convinced her client team to join her for the day, Wednesday, October 8.

The rest of the team—Pete Barnett, Associate Creative Director; Whitney Floersch, Senior Project Manager; Holly Grigalunas, Senior Writer; Peta Niehaus, Designer; Susan Pfeifer, Senior Project Manager; Marta Sasinowska, Senior Designer—led by Anne-Marie Rosser, Partner, Client Engagement came ready to work, and were paired up with long-time Pantry volunteers. The pairings proved useful for the team, according to Sasinowska: “There was a constant flow of people for the full afternoon, and the regular volunteer in my section was in her 60s; for her to do it all on her own would’ve been overwhelming.”

They met arrivals and worked food lines at one of the Pantry’s stations: meats, dairy, produce, bread, snacks and government foods. The Pantry featured donations from a number of independent food markets as well as Whole Foods, providing a more organic, nutritious experience for customers. Niehaus said, “It was such an efficient program and many people were so grateful—they came from all walks of life and some waited two hours before the doors opened for the day.”

The Pantry reported that the VSA team helped distribute food to 390 people in 131 households, as well as 54 winter coats and pet food and supplies for 70 households. The group was the second this year to participate in a Purpose Day, after April’s Overnight Website Challenge team.

Inspired by the experience, Pfeifer and the team launched a food drive at VSA starting today. VSAers are encouraged to bring non-canned items like snacks, juices and dry mixes; non-food items like toiletries, socks, diapers and feminine hygiene products; and reusable bags. As for others volunteering for the Pantry, Pfeifer enthusiastically recommends it. “It was remarkably easy to set up. They were so responsive and grateful for our help. We appreciated the chance to help the people in our own community in ways like this.”

Rosser agreed, “I was on board right away when Susan suggested it—we all were. Our team became much closer than we would have at the office. It was an honor to give some of the Pantry’s regular volunteers a much-needed afternoon off and take their place.”

The Irving Park Community Food Pantry accepts volunteer groups up to 10. To learn more about the Pantry and get information about making a monetary or food donation, visit their site or Facebook page.