For the past year, 11-year-old Eugene Lim has regularly traveled from his Streamwood home to the Northern Illinois Food Bank's Geneva center to repackage bulk donations for distribution to food pantries.
And though he's exceeded the community service requirements needed for admittance into the Junior Mensa Honor Society, his original goal, he has no plans to cut back on his volunteer work.
"I like that I'm making a difference in the community," said the Sycamore Trails Elementary School sixth-grader. "I like working with other people, the collaboration."
Eugene's efforts were honored in July when the food bank presented him with its 2015 Youth Volunteer of the Year Award at a volunteer recognition ceremony held at a Kane County Cougars game.
"He is incredible," said Donna Larkin Lake, the food bank's director of communications and philanthropy. "He comes in on a regular basis. He comes in with his parents."
Lake said several volunteers and volunteer groups who work at the food bank's locations in Geneva, Rockford and Park City also were recognized with awards.
"Every year we recognize volunteer supervisors. We also recognize a volunteer from each center," she said.
Collectively, volunteers donated 135,000 hours to the food bank in the past year, helping with efforts to distribute food to the 800 food pantries in the nonprofit organization's network, Lake said.
"The Northern Illinois Food Bank is a charity that relies on the generosity of others," she said.
She said children ages 8 and older may volunteer, but must be accompanied by an adult chaperon.
"We have some families that come in and volunteer as a group," she said.
Over the past year, Eugene has logged more than 50 volunteer hours at the food bank, said his father, Eng Chong Lim.
Lake said the food bank is grateful for Eugene's level of commitment.
"He's truly an inspiration," she said. "It's so rewarding to see children giving back and recognizing they have a talent and they can make a difference."
Even before Eugene came to the food bank, he was accustomed to doing volunteer work, as a member of Boy Scout Troop 398 of Hanover Park and, prior to that, as a Cub Scout in Elgin's Pack 1855.
But another goal beckoned. Eugene already was a member of Mensa, a nonprofit society of people with IQ scores in the top 2 percent. But he wanted to gain membership in the organization's Junior Honor Society. An additional commitment to community service was required.
So, he volunteered with a local animal shelter.
"He was responsible for cleaning out the cages for these cats," said his father. "He started sneezing and we realized he's allergic to cats."
"My allergies flared up," said Eugene.
Undaunted, Eugene and his parents searched for another volunteer opportunity.
"The food bank allowed volunteers as young as 8," said Eng Chong. "A lot of organizations don't allow youth volunteers."
Eugene continues to volunteer each month, accompanied either by his father or his mother, Mai Lai Loo. Soon, Eugene's younger sister Maggi will also join in the family's volunteer venture. Her 8th birthday was Sept. 3, Eng Chong said, so she now qualifies.
"It's become a routine for us," he said.
Eugene said he wants to encourage other young people and their families to volunteer.
"This is who he is," said his father. "He likes to help people."
Eugene said he hopes that young people follow his lead and commit to volunteering their time to a worthy cause for an average of at least one hour per week.
When he shared details about his volunteer experience with his fifth-grade class during the last academic year, his teacher decided to add volunteer articles to the classroom newsletter on an ongoing basis.
Eugene said he hopes his classmates follow his lead.
"I want them to make a difference, too," Eugene said.