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updated: 4/7/2014 9:50 AM

Human Race: Helping at pantry 'rewarding' to volunteer

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  • Susan McNeal-Bulak of Naperville volunteers at Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry. She'll raise money for the pantry by joining in the Human Race organized by Giving DuPage.

    Susan McNeal-Bulak of Naperville volunteers at Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry. She'll raise money for the pantry by joining in the Human Race organized by Giving DuPage.
    Courtesy of Susan McNeal-Bulak


At Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry, clients in financial need are able to shop the shelves for food -- both pantry staples and fresh items -- that fit their family's tastes and dietary concerns.

In addition to food, the pantry offers clients help in finding health care coverage; direction to financial assistance; tax services, job search support; English language, computer and financial literacy classes; and emotional support through counseling.

Susan McNeal-Bulak of Naperville volunteers in several capacities at Loaves and Fishes and has seen firsthand how the pantry helps people through tough times. She'll take part in Giving DuPage's Human Race to raise money for the pantry.

Susan McNeal-Bulak

They begin lining up long before doors open at 8:30 a.m. -- single moms, older couples, families with children, young adults. They arrive at Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry in Naperville for the food, the support, the smiles of the volunteers and the services offered to help them out at this difficult time in their lives.

For 30 years Loaves and Fishes has been providing food and other resources to fulfill its vision of ending hunger in DuPage County and empowering clients to become self-sufficient.

Shortly after retiring from teaching, I began volunteering at Loaves and Fishes. Having lived in Naperville for nearly 30 years, I had certainly heard of Loaves and Fishes and knew I wanted to include this organization in my newly acquired time to give back to the community. I knew intellectually that there were hungry people in my town and other towns around Naperville; what I didn't know was how many people living in Naperville and surrounding communities were food insecure. And I truly didn't know how many of them were children.

In the past three years, I have participated at Loaves and Fishes by serving on the Volunteer Action Committee; speaking on behalf of the organization at schools, colleges and community events for the Ambassadors program; and working at the reception desk at the Loaves and Fishes facility. But, hands down, my favorite part of volunteering at Loaves and Fishes Community Pantry, is my regular Tuesday morning shift working on the distribution floor, helping our clients shop for the food they need. I love chatting with our regular clients, finding out about their children, their lives, sometimes their struggles.

I love that our food pantry offers our clients a choice of food so they can select food appropriate for their family. Cereal, rice, canned goods, personal care items, school lunch components, fresh produce, baked goods, meat, dairy, fresh bread, even flowers are available as our clients journey through the aisles of food donated to and purchased by Loaves and Fishes. I love seeing all the food donated daily from our local supermarkets: fruit from Whole Foods, bread from Great Harvest, produce from Caputo's, and on and on. Casey's, Jewel, Panera, Mayneland Farm, Trader Joe's and many others contribute weekly, even daily.

Standing in front of the produce coolers -- my usual Tuesday morning gig -- helping clients choose from salad, tomatoes, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, apples, oranges, strawberries, grapes; seeing their carts already packed with potatoes, onions, bananas, mushrooms and other fresh produce donated; knowing that our clients and their families will be able to cook and consume fresh, healthy food I know the three hours standing on the concrete floors of our warehouse distribution floor will fly by. It is volunteer time well-spent and truly rewarding.

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