Patrons, volunteers benefit with A Just Harvest

July 14, 2011 3:35:10 PM PDT
A Rogers Park organization is working to end hunger one dinner at a time. But organizers say they couldn't impact the community the way they do without the physical and financial help that they receive from volunteers.

The food is carefully prepped and the tables are set with their final additions. Soon, the establishment will open for dinner. But this is not a typical family restaurant. It's an anti-hunger organization called "A Just Harvest."

"We serve dinner every single day of the year to an average of 170 people," said Marilyn Pagan-Banks, Executive Director of A Just Harvest.

Patrons file in and are each assigned to a table. Volunteers take drink orders and serve them restaurant style.

"I would have conversations with folks and they said there's just so much more dignity in this and we feel so special now," Pagan-Banks said.

But it's not just those being served who benefit. Volunteers including army veteran Matt Lausche argue they are the greater benefactors.

"I'm not that far away from possibly being in the position that these people are in and I would want someone to be there to feed me and love on me and that's what I do," Lausche said.

Rick Anderson regularly brings his sons. He says it's a great way to stay connected and to teach valuable lessons.

"It's important for me as a parent for them to see the diversity of the community, the needs in the community. We're sort of upper middle class and they don't get exposed to many of the problems that could be right around next door," Anderson said.

As the economy has declined, organizers say needs have increased with more families and working poor seeking help. Nathaniel Rogers is a single father and a postal worker who regularly comes for dinner with his son.

"They treat everybody with a level of respect and dignity and you know even me who they know work. They're always glad to see me and my son. No one's ever refused here and they serve a nutritious meal 365 days a year," Rogers said.

"A lot of the folks who come to eat tell us often that they have to come because they can't afford to pay their mortgage or their rent and also buy dinner or they can't afford to buy their medications and also buy dinner and so we like to say we're also subsidizing housing," Pagan-Banks said.

Often people think of pitching in to feed the needy around Thanksgiving and Christmas. Volunteers at "A Just Harvest" point out that the need is year-round.

"There are always hungry people and it doesn't just happen to happen on holidays, major holidays where there's a guilt factor. Everyone's hungry every single day so I think it's really important that everyone should get fed no matter what day it is," Na Lee said.

A Just Harvest partners with about forty organizations that regularly contribute food to be served as well as supply volunteers, but the group is always looking for more help. If you'd like to get involved, visit www.ajustharvest.org

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