Pantry volunteers Bill Dillon of Chicago Heights and JoAnn Hillblom of Mokena work together at Together We Cope.
‘Working with like-minded people’
In the two years that JoAnn Hillblom of Mokena has volunteered at TWC’s food pantry, the number of families needing help has doubled. She laughs as she describes a typical shift in the pantry these days. “A normal day anymore is where we’re off and running as soon as we walk in the door, and we don’t stop running until we leave!”
But you won’t hear JoAnn complain. “We work hard, but we have fun,” she explains. “The people here are why I love this job. I enjoy being with people who are like-minded. The volunteers at Cope are here because they want to help others who are going through difficult times.”
JoAnn said her work often is a humbling experience. Her role is to answer the door at the pantry and greet clients who arrive for their food appointments. As clients are handed pre-packed bags of food staples, JoAnn invites them to choose some fresh produce and tells them what kinds of meat or poultry are on hand. “I am very touched by some of our clients. They have made me appreciate the things I have in my life.”
She has met people whose lives are devastated by job loss or medical problems, yet “they are the most upbeat people,” she said. “Usually, clients like that say they don’t want to take too much food, they want to leave something for the next person.” She also meets clients who formerly were donors to TWC, but who now need help themselves.
One little girl made a strong impression on JoAnn. “She was 4, and came in with her mother about 2:30 in the afternoon. She didn’t have any dinner the night before because there was no food in the house, and she hadn’t eaten anything yet this day,” JoAnn said. “We packed up a bag of snacks the little one could eat immediately, and found some juice for her. But it breaks your heart to see little ones living like this.”
JoAnn and her husband, Ken, recently celebrated their 47th wedding anniversary. They have two sons and visit Seattle as often as possible to be with their grandchildren.