Serving others, serving self

Words by Ben Walkuski

When I was a child, sometimes I would ask my mother, “how much do you make?” or “how much do we have?” Unfailingly, her answer would always be, “enough.” Though the vagueness of her response always drove me nuts, it was likely the proper answer to a child with little concept of money. As I grew up and out of my relatively small, protected world of “enough,” it did not take long to discover that, relative to the poverty and homelessness in the world, my life as a child was downright abundant. In fact, my life has always been blessed with the abundance of good health, a roof over my head, food on the table, and clothes on my back. It is out of this abundance that I feel a responsibility—a personal, professional, spiritual, and social responsibility—to serve others.

This is not optional. This is mandatory.

One way in which I serve others is through my local food pantry, an emergency food program that provides nutritious food and social service information to those who need them. For a few hours each month, I recruit volunteers to help serve guests. For a few more hours each month, I help serve guests. While we are meeting the immediate need of hunger, we are also building bridges, building community, and shining light into the dark places of our city.

It is no exaggeration when I say that I love volunteering at the food pantry. I love working alongside fellow volunteers from different faith communities and traditions toward the common goal of alleviating hunger. We are there to serve, and whether our efforts are met with anger, anxiety, frustration, sadness, or gratitude on the part of the pantry’s guests, still we serve. Most pantry guests are usually very understanding and respectful of the process: wait your turn, be patient, tell us what you need, and we will try to provide enough to go around. Thanks to the generosity of local congregations, individuals, businesses, and organizations, there usually is enough to go around.

This experience can be, at various times, heartbreakingly sad, heartwarmingly uplifting, challenging, gratifying, overwhelming, and always humbling. It’s a win-win proposition: by giving to those with less, I feel grateful for what I have and good about what I have done. More awe-inspiring, yet, is when I bring a bag or two of food to a guest at the pantry for their review and am handed food back. “This is enough,” he or she will say, taking only what they need and leaving the rest for someone else. For someone with so little, this small act of selflessness actually is not small at all. It’s an act of abundance.

The St Vincent de Paul food pantry is located in the St. Francis de Sales Parish, at 135 S. Buesching Road in Lake Zurich. The pantry serves all guests every Thursday evening from 6:15 to 8:15 p.m. For more information on how to make a financial or food donation, or to volunteer, call 847.438.6622.