Several volunteers and staff members from Addison Trail came together to pack and distribute 380,000 meals this summer, ensuring that everyone in Addison had breakfast and lunch each day.
Members of the “Pandemic Food Crew” met each Thursday at Addison Trail High School and Fullerton Elementary to volunteer and give back to their community. The result was both monumental and shocking.
“I had no idea,” said Marykathryn Maranowicz, a member of the crew, after finding out just how many meals the group’s hard work had placed on tables. “You’re just there every day packing food. I’m happy that that many ate on our behalf,” she said.
Other volunteers agreed, feeling proud to be a part of a successful team.
“Hearing that number backed up my initial thought process. There’s a need, and it’s much bigger than I thought,” said Keith Marston, a food service volunteer who is also a Dean at Addison Trail. “I realized that I was a small piece of a larger team.
This team ended each day with a large impact. However, producing this impact wasn’t an easy task. Volunteers often stood outside for hours in the hot sun or freezing cold and lifted heavy crates of food. Keeping the food cold was also difficult. Maintaining social distancing and wearing masks created additional challenges that the crew had to overcome. Many volunteers described just how difficult these challenges were.
“We had some really crazy weather. It was snowing in Spring, we had some cold and rainy days, and it became very humid in the summer. We got a touch of it all,” said Maranowicz. “And the gloves,” she added. “I didn’t mind the masks, but the gloves were really difficult.”
Challenges also occurred as volunteers tried to ensure they had the right amount of food.
“It was difficult not knowing exactly who was going to show up,” said Marston. “We never knew if we had to make 250 meals or 5.”
Despite not being certain of numbers, the crew could count on that many people would show up each week. Volunteers at Marston’s site, Fullerton elementary school, typically reached numbers of about 250 meals per week. Although the distribution took place at Fullerton, the process began at Addison Trail High School. Crew Captain Suzanne Flemming described this step of the operation.
“We would talk to the cafeteria manager and find out how many meals we had enough food for,” said Flemming. “We also found out about any updates. We would get an update from the township pantry about their schedule. ”
Many community groups pitched in to add other items besides food to the distribution. These were handed off at Addison Trail as well.
“The park district came and passed out coloring books for Easter. The library came one week as well to pass out information about the summer reading program. Towards the end, they handed out coloring supplies and other things to keep the kids busy during the summer,” Flemming said. “We had a lot of the different divisions come to our site because we reached so many people.”
After receiving necessary information and items, volunteers loaded generous donations of produce, comfort food, beverages, and breakfast items onto large busses along with gloves, masks, and thermometers. The busses then arrived at Fullerton Elementary, where volunteers such as Maranowicz stepped in.
“Volunteers would first unload the bus in crates and boxes. Then we would set up tables and create a functional assembly line. We packed the bags on site so we could pack according to the number of families that came,” she said.
Maranowicz also volunteered to come early each week and deliver meals. She drove to houses around Addison to ensure that families without transportation could receive food as well.
“I loved seeing how appreciative people were that we were bringing food to their door,” she said. I also looked forward to conversations I had each Tuesday. I got to meet members of the community, school, and district office, as well as parents in the community. It gave a whole new meaning to the Blazer family”
All crew members agreed that every last ounce of work was worth it. Each also stressed the importance of giving back.
“Without a doubt this was rewarding,” said Marston. “It kept me connected to our community and school. I also met new people I had never known before. I can’t think of a harder time that our town has had, and being a part of this process is a privilege and an honor.”
Marston hopes that young people will heed his advice and be active in their community.
“Get involved,” he said. “Get involved in whatever you like to do and you’ll give back automatically. You need to take your passion, your desire, and pay it forward. Doing what you can to make society one day better is critical.”
Flemming, who has lived in Addison for 39 years, strongly agreed that giving back is both rewarding and important..
“It was definitely rewarding. We were able to help our neighbors,” she said. She also emphasized the value of time. “People see that we’re here to help. We may not have had much money to give, but we had our time, and our time is worth a lot.”
These volunteers not only are happy with the impact they have created but hopeful that they are able to show young people the importance of community and what community truly means to them.
“It’s not a community until people work and care together,” said Maranowicz. “You can live on the same street or in the same neighborhood, but until you work together, it’s not a community. Just living on that street isn’t enough. Giving back is an important part of life.”
The hard work and kind hearts of these volunteers have certainly made Addison a better place and have touched the lives of many many people. The impact they have produced during this difficult and trying time will definitely leave a lasting impression on many.