Oak Forest senior collects supplies for schools in Africa
BY GINGER BRASHINGER CORRESPONDENT April 5, 2013 11:31PM
Janet LaVelle shows off some of the school supplies she has collected at her home in Oak Forest. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: May 8, 2013 6:42AM
Janet LaVelle, 76, of Oak Forest, is always ready to add something more to her list of things to do.
“As long as my mouth works, I’ll do what I can to help others,” LaVelle said.
LaVelle recently contacted John Shattuck, a Frankfort businessman, about his work providing school children in Niger, Africa, with used school supplies.
“I saw the article (in the SouthtownStar), and I called John … and told him I wanted to be a part of it,” LaVelle said.
With permission from Oak Forest Mayor Hank Kuspa, LaVelle set up a collection box in the village hall, hoping to help Shattuck’s efforts.
LaVelle has some help, too. Her husband of 29 years, Jack, 76, does “the heavy work” for her many volunteer projects.
“I couldn’t do it without him,” LaVelle said.
Jack’s work involves packing collected items onto the back of his pick-up truck and bringing them home for sorting, packaging and dispersal.
“You should see my living room,” LaVelle said. “It usually looks like a warehouse.”
LaVelle’s living room also looks like a museum.
She and Jack are collectors of items ranging from antique and vintage hats, telephones and furniture to items for the nonprofit Antique Radio Museum attached to their home.
But despite the thousands of items on display, LaVelle makes room for the charitable organizations she has become involved with over the years.
LaVelle began collecting for the homeless after a friend noticed how resourceful LaVelle was in collecting for the veterans at Manteno Veteran’s Home.
LaVelle’s work with the veterans began when she discovered the veterans’ lack of necessities.
“You would not believe what the veterans do not get,” LaVelle said.
She began collecting DVDs, paper products and toiletries, mostly from senior citizens with whom she socializes regularly at the Oak Forest Community Center.
It was an incident of generosity, LaVelle said, which led to her involvement with Shattuck’s mission, she said.
LaVelle was contacted by a woman who lost her husband and son within the same year and wanted a place to donate a folding wheelchair and boxes of medical supplies.
LaVelle said she was unable to find any local organizations to take the items.
She discovered Children of Abraham, an Indiana-based nonprofit organization that gladly accepted the used items for shipment to Africa.
LaVelle said because her communication with COA was such a positive experience, when her husband pointed out Shattuck’s connection with COA in the newspaper article, she decided she had to be involved.
Despite some serious health issues, LaVelle is committed to her volunteer work.
She is facing hip replacement surgery and lives daily with the pain of inoperable tumors on her spine, making walking difficult, but LaVelle has a sense of humor about it all.
“I name all my ailments,” LaVelle said.
She and Jack, who are “on a very fixed income” also clean Oak Forest’s community center and are happy to have the work, she said.
LaVelle believes keeping busy is the key to having the energy to keep going, and she encourages others to do the same.
In fact, she thinks “an attitude adjustment” is better than sympathy.
“You just have to pick yourself up by your bootstraps,” LaVelle said. “Tell yourself, ‘If Janet can do it, I can do it.’”
For more information, call (708) 423-5600.
To donate school supplies, drop them off at Oak Forest City Hall, 15440 S. Central Ave.