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Soup kitchen provides volunteer hours, more

Updated: January 12, 2012 8:06AM



Many of you may have heard of Liz Wisnasky (Liz the Wiz), a volunteer coordinator for local churches, soup kitchens, and service efforts.

I was put in contact with her when asked to coordinate some extra community service hours outside of the school district graduation mandate for a young teen.

This seemed like an easy task. Everyone needs volunteers. We started by calling Sandburg and its Service Learning Department. Since the young person was a student, and was going to be volunteering numerous hours for the Craft Fair, should he/she just pop into the office and have them sign the appropriate form?

Not that easy — service hours mandated for graduation (29 hours) cannot be used for other projects, like NHS, Mu Alpha Theta, sports, court, clubs, scholarships, church, etc. Hmmm — here is a teen who has more than 130 hours of volunteer service, this should be an easy task. The volunteer coordinator did give me some ideas of where to turn.

I started dialing numbers of any non-profit agencies that we could conjure. Eighteen agencies in all were contacted. Twelve stated that they could not authorize any volunteer efforts unless it was for a school district. Three agencies had volunteer opportunities, however, not until January, which is a good sign reflecting the nature of people, but this task needed to be completed by the end of the year.

We started calling churches, not knowing fully if those opportunities would count, and that is when we happened on to Liz. She works with many teens who need hours outside of their school mandate. She proudly tells of one volunteer that contributed more than 500 hours of community service for a scholarship, and received an $11,000 (renewable for four years) reward for his/her efforts.

Liz’s dedication and pride in these young people was refreshing. Some of the volunteers she works with have court-ordered service, usually a very small amount of hours for minor traffic violations, and she well understands the difficulties of serving those hours. She recalled one young person that was assigned 150-plus hours, and was having severe difficulties finding opportunities to serve by the deadline. Add to that the fact that most young people are very involved at school — clubs, sports, etc. and, if not, they have entered the work force to help their families in this volatile economy. That raises the stakes a little more.

She detailed their work with the Joliet Soup Kitchen, as sponsored by St. Elizabeth Seton Church in Orland Hills. They are assigned one day a month to serve at the site, and they take it to the next level. Instead of serving cafeteria style, they serve sit-down meals for the patrons of the facility. Giving a more white-glove treatment helps those being served feel a little more special.

By serving the food, the volunteers also get to interact with those less fortunate. This interaction is very important, in that these kids, some of whom have never dealt with any kind of adversity, can see firsthand that the people they are serving may not be that far away from their own situations. Many people are one paycheck away from being at that facility.

Liz added how thankful she was for all the volunteers she gets, and for some of the local businesses that are crucial to their efforts. Currently, there is a promotion at The Texas Roadhouse, 18345 LaGrange Road, Tinley Park, wherein if you buy a $50 gift certificate, they will donate a ham to a needy family. Also, they donate rolls for the shelter, where currently 75 men, 35 children and 40 women are taking up residence. Liz happily reports that one resident at the shelter eats up to 13 of the rolls — he just loves them! Recently, Orland Meat Market and Deli donated meat for a meal. Red Lobster donated dessert for the October dinner. Ouatum Foods is providing a donation of meat for their Christmas dinner, which is scheduled for Dec. 18.

Residents living there receive education on life skills, job training, and learning how to manage their finances, along with parenting classes.

In the 17 years that St. Elizabeth Seton Parish has been serving there, they have only experienced two clients that returned for help. Most return back into the community after two years of help and continued communication with a counselor, who stays in touch with them each month.

A day at the soup kitchen

The night before, prepare three dozen baked goods to bring with you to the facility, thereby earning an extra hour of community service.

8 a.m. — Arrive at St. Elizabeth Seton Church to carpool with other volunteers (remember to bring your treat!)

8:15 — Transport to Joliet facility.

At the facility, stock shelves with canned goods, prepare the food, set individual plates and serve to patrons. Volunteers peel potatoes, roll silverware into napkins and place onto trays, make salad, cut donated desserts and scoop ice cream and serve the almost 200 residents.

Opportunity to visit with the “children of God” (Liz’s description for the people they serve).

Tour the facility living quarters, seeing the PADS section where guests sleep on mattresses on the floor every night and see the other facilities where the clients stay with their children in the two-room suites.

Participate in games (like bingo), activities, even watch a little television.

Dessert is served.

Clean, wash dishes, pack up any extra supplies.

Transport back to St. Elizabeth Seton Church.

Arrive at 1:30, having had a wonderful learning experience.



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