By Erin Esko
October 17, 2013
It was an exceptionally rainy night in Chicago. Guests sought shelter from the weather in the lobby or doorway. Ten volunteers from the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago arrived at the Marquard Center soup kitchen, a Feed Chicago volunteer activity, part of the JUF Hunger Awareness Project. This project is a year-long initiative to raise awareness and mobilize volunteers in the area of hunger and food insecurity. The JUF Hunger Awareness Project not only includes volunteer opportunities at soup kitchens, but also offers a variety of activities at various agencies throughout Chicago and nationwide.
We, the volunteers, committed our time because we believed in the project's cause. We wanted to make a difference. If 1 in 6 Americans go to bed hungry each night, then perhaps tonight we could devote some of our time to an organization committed to changing that unfortunate statistic. The Marquard Center in Bucktown, as part of the Franciscan Outreach Association, offers dinner service 365 days of the year. That rainy night was no exception. We served around 100 guests. The staff at the Marquard Center welcomed us with open arms, smiles and grace. They had prepared all of the food and we were prepared to serve it, clean the tables, reset the tables, greet guests and fill water glasses. Each guest was treated with respect and the guests treated us in the same way. Just as the center opens its doors to guests from all over, the volunteers were from all sides of the Chicagoland area.
We did not know each other before that night. However, by the end, we were bonded: laughing together, telling stories, helping one another. As the night came to a close and the last guests receded back into the night, so too did us volunteers, surprised to find that the rain had passed. We felt good about having done our part, but understood there was more work to be done.
Erin Esko is currently in nursing school and is working with TOV to plan a volunteer project for her fellow nursing students. Feed Chicago was actually her first JUF event!