Meet Thom Schouten...
When you ask clients of the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry what makes the Pantry a special place, the first comment they usually offer is that the spirit of the volunteers makes them feel welcome and supported. During March of this year, 377 volunteers worked together to cover 1036 total volunteer assignments to keep the Pantry humming. They worked a total of 2150 hours. One of those volunteers was Thom Schouten.
Over the past eight years, Thom has performed many different types of service for the Pantry. He became active following his retirement, when a friend of his wife recommended the Pantry as a good place to volunteer. Since then, Thom has worn many different hats at the Pantry, doing handyman chores, working on delivery shifts, and picking up rescued produce from Whole Foods.
“When I first started volunteering, we didn’t do rescues. Food waste borders on the obscene—portions are so large and people buy more than they can use.” Thom appreciates the Pantry’s many efforts to cut down on waste and connect usable food with the many people who need it.
His favorite project, though, is the new Senior Food Delivery program, for which he is crew chief. Under that program, a group of volunteers teams up to package and deliver food shipments to housebound seniors in the community who need food but can’t get to the Pantry to pick it up. The clients are grateful to have food delivered to their doors by friendly volunteers, and Thom enjoys building relationships with the clients on his route.
“Most of these folks are pretty much alone, and we provide something over and above the food delivery when we take a few minutes to visit. Five to ten minutes asking how they are, asking if we can help them put away their food—these things can make a big difference.”
Having volunteered at the Pantry for 8 years, Thom has seen lots of changes and innovations in the way the Pantry serves the community. He applauds the imagination and creativity of the Pantry’s administrative team, but also gives lots of credit to the strength and commitment of the volunteers.
“It’s one thing to come up with great ideas, but we have a whole team of volunteers who will say ‘Yes, I can do that.’ That’s the really amazing part—there is always someone to step up and take the shifts. It has always struck me that its good to remember that even in a prosperous community some people really don’t have a lot. I’m so glad I have found something so enjoyable and rewarding to do.”
Some of Thom’s shifts are exhausting, such as building shelves, toting flattened boxes to the River Forest Jewel to be recycled, and working on big deliveries, but this dedicated volunteer keeps coming back for more.
“There’s this contentedness after I sit down in my easy chair. I may feel a little sore, but I really feel good,” he says. “The people who volunteer for delivery are a fun group to be around. I hope I can do this as long as I’m able.” The Pantry team hopes so too.