Jess Park and Aaron Wasserman Olin—the School Programs team at HandsOn Suburban Chicago (HOSC)—recently caught up with two volunteers who are increasing access to nutritious meals for our vulnerable neighbors. Jim Hynan is a Senior Corps-RSVP member who, prior to the novel coronavirus pandemic, donated his time and talents to HOSC’s CHiL and Lunch Buddies. He now volunteers at a food pantry. Patrick Callahan, a nursing student, similarly delivers meals to homebound seniors. Their correspondences have been edited.
HOSC: In a few sentences, please introduce yourselves to our readers.
Jim Hynan: My name is Jim Hynan. I was born and raised in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago and now live in Northbrook. I am retired and thus devote a lot of time to volunteer work. My hobbies include skiing, swimming, scuba diving, and bicycling.
Patrick Callahan: I’m Patrick Callahan. I live in Des Plaines. I worked in information technology for a decade before going back to school for nursing. In my free time, I run an electric car racing series.
HOSC: How has the pandemic affected your lives or worldviews?
JH: With most of my volunteer work suspended, my biggest challenges are inactivity and cabin fever. But many people have it worse due to this pandemic, so I won’t complain. Peoples’ problems with illness and joblessness at this time are beyond my comprehension.
PC: The pandemic has shown me how fragile our healthcare system is and how helpless hospitals are when they have to compete against each other for limited resources.
HOSC: Where do you volunteer?
JH: I volunteer two or three times a week at the Northfield Township Food Pantry in Glenview.
PC: Hanul Family Alliance [Originally founded as a senior center for Korean immigrants, the Hanul Family Alliance now provides social services to an ever-changing immigrant population of wide-ranging ages.]
HOSC: Tell our readers what it’s like to volunteer during this crisis? How does it compare to your previous volunteering experiences?
JH: The pantry gets significant donations from individuals, restaurants, school districts, grocery stores, and other sources. The food is shelved and then distributed on site to those in need within the neighborhood. This is different for me, because my pre-COVID 19 volunteer activities were tutoring and coaching a small swim team.
PC: I deliver warm meals to the homebound elderly. I drive about 30 miles delivering warm meals to approximately half a dozen seniors. I used to deliver pizzas many years ago, and this is no different.
HOSC: Why did you decide to volunteer?
JH: All my other volunteer activities were cancelled by the pandemic, and I needed something to fill the void. I was thankfully on the email list of Northfield Township when they asked for volunteers to replace their regulars who wanted to wait out the pandemic. The pantry operation is considered essential; thus volunteer activity does not violate the state’s stay-at-home order.
PC: I heard about many organizations needing help at this time. Since school has been postponed for me, I thought I should help out in any way I can. The shouted thank-yous I get as I walk away from the seniors’ doorsteps are the best part of volunteering.
HOSC: What have you learned by volunteering during a crisis?
JH: I learned that there remains a huge need for food, especially among those whose employment has been impacted by the pandemic. It is very evident that there are disadvantaged and hungry folks in the northern suburbs. The problem of hunger is not limited to poorer neighborhoods in the inner city.
PC: I was surprised by the sheer number of seniors out there who are now more reliant than ever on their community to keep them safe and healthy.
HOSC: What would you say to people who are thinking about volunteering but are afraid of getting sick?
JH: Just take the proper precautions. The pantry limits their two-hour shifts to four volunteers at a time to ensure social distancing. We wear masks and gloves. And I have read of other volunteer opportunities, such as food delivery, where volunteers would work alone from their cars.
PC: Hanul Family Alliance provides me with gloves and a mask when I volunteer. When I get to people’s doorsteps, I don’t stick around. So all of my interactions are at a distance.
HOSC: What is your favorite quarantine activity and why?
JH: Keeping in touch with my two alumni clubs and my high school via email, Zoom, or teleconference. I have board or committee positions with all three.
PC: I have been enjoying learning new languages while I have been isolating. I have studied Spanish, French, German, and might learn some Korean too.
So many of us are in need in so many different ways, and the only way to overcome this crisis is together. Join Jim, Patrick, Kara, and Liz in catalyzing the power of collective responsibility by signing up for an urgent opportunity today.
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