When Janet Deisenroth describes her volunteer schedule, she starts with the qualifier “when it’s not golf season.”
That’s because Janet, a 63-year-old retired data analyst, is an avid golfer, and that’s a daytime sport. Her other favorite sport to play, ice hockey, doesn’t interfere with her volunteer schedule as much because her league games are in the evenings. “And I run a women’s league how-to-play hockey group on Sundays,” she adds.
That’s why Janet needs to qualify her schedule. So, in warm months, she “only” volunteers a couple days a week.
In the colder months, you can find Janet on some Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays volunteering in our North Suburban Center in Lake County. Or you might see her at Mobile Markets at College of Lake County, Fox Lake and Waukegan’s Cristo Rey. Sometimes she even helps at special events.
“I like to keep busy, and I think it’s a good cause,” she explains.
Janet’s favorite volunteer job is on Wednesdays as site lead at two distributions for our online food pantry, My Pantry Express. That’s where she gets to interact directly with neighbors, “especially the regulars,” she says. “You kind of get to know them. I enjoy talking to them. You see all that stuff you’re doing when you’re working the warehouse. You see the result and how grateful they are.”
It was a My Pantry Express distribution that created one of her most memorable neighbor interactions. It was about eight months after the hard shutdown of the pandemic in late 2020.
“One day a lady came up. She had become a regular. She said, ‘I’m so sad today.’” Janet asked why she was sad. “‘I got a job so I don’t need to visit you anymore,’ she answered.”
The woman was so excited for her new job and so thankful for all the help she had received. “It really made you feel like standing out in the cold or the heat [at food distributions] was really, really worth it. People are so appreciative, it makes you want to come back next week.”
Did that neighbor stop coming? “I told her that it was OK to keep coming as she got back on her feet. Pay a few bills. You might need some new clothes for this job. Let us help you.”
And that neighbor took the advice, returning to pick up food for a few weeks.
Janet has been a regular volunteer for about six years. Before that she had taken part in corporate volunteer groups about twice a year, and always enjoyed the experience.
After her retirement, when she found herself alone on Saturdays because her husband still worked those days, she recalled that corporate volunteer experience. “It was winter. We retired in January. What else could I pick up?” she wondered. “I remembered that it’s always fun working at the Food Bank.”
Her first volunteer shift after retiring? “I went alone,” she says. “I just went that first time. I walked in not sure what to expect.” And everyone made her feel right at home.
When her oldest grandchild turned 8, Janet starting turning some of that volunteer time into family time, when she would bring him to participate in some volunteer shifts in the warehouse on Saturdays. That was three years ago and now he’s 11.
“Volunteering is something he and I have in common,” Janet says. “I think it’s important they understand that not everyone is as lucky as they are.”
His visits were paused during the pandemic because it would have been difficult for him to social distance – he loves interacting with all the other volunteers, especially some of the regulars whom he’s gotten to know. But their schedule is back to normal now.
Some of the volunteer jobs are not as much fun for him, Janet admits. Recently they processed a batch of onions, discarding any bad ones and bagging the others to give out through food pantries and distributions. “He said, ‘It was really terrible, but I’ll still come back.’ ” Another grandson tells Janet that he can’t wait for his turn to volunteer, when he turns eight. He’s five now. She says maybe, someday, all five of her grandchildren will be able to volunteer with her. “They are all looking forward to it.”