The old church basement of the Holy Family Soup Kitchen in Waukegan has the feel of a community pot luck.
Volunteers who come to cook, serve and clean up, as well as diners who come to eat, like Charlie Jablonski, 67, who for 20 years has carried a plastic tray through the serving line, know each other well.
“I got a lot of friends down here,” said Jablonski, who has a bad knee and who asks a volunteer to bring him another helping of noodles.
On Thursday night, Dec. 5, nearly 200 people come to eat, including families with children and teens on their own. The place is decorated with a Christmas tree and lights. Talk and laughter fill the air.
“We welcome everyone to our evening meal − no questions asked,” said Kitty Shumaker of Waukegan, who helped found the soup kitchen on Waukegan’s south side, which opened 29 years ago on Dec 13. “We welcome any volunteer who’s interested in comforting body and soul.”
The soup kitchen operates under Most Blessed Trinity Parish’s Community Social Services, a recipient agency of Help Them to Hope, the Lake County News-Sun’s holiday campaign.
Shumaker oversees the work of 31 teams − more than 300 volunteers from 13 area churches and one synagogue. Volunteers gather high-quality leftovers from restaurants and stores including Trader Joe’s and Sunset Foods in Northbrook, Whole Foods in Deerfield, Eloise Chicago in Vernon Hills, Bill’s Pizza and Pub in Diamond Lake, the Peacock Restaurant in Waukegan and Liberty Restaurant in Libertyville.
“Homelessness and hunger will always be with us,” Shumaker said. “But together we can make a difference.”
Holy Family served 33,430 or an average of 2,800 meals per month in 2012. It hit the 33,000 mark for 2013 this week.
Volunteers include Libertyville barber Brad Nelson, of Gurnee, who visits to give free haircuts.
“It comes down to this,” Nelson said. “I believe in spreading the gospel. This is my way of doing it.”
Longtime volunteer Mary Ann Gilray of Wadsworth, a widow, helps cook the meal then makes the rounds, chatting with children, and hugging people while they enjoy it.
“It’s just something that gives me a lot of satisfaction,” Gilray said. “It’s wonderful to get to know people whose lives are so different.”
One Holy Family regular, a veteran who asked not to be identified, talked as he ate.
“No person should every go hungry,” he said.
For more details on the News-Sun’s annual Help Them to Hope campaign, see page 11.