By Barb Hickey
“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; the third is to be kind.” Henry James
When people talk about the excellence of Oak Park and River Forest Food Pantry, whether they are clients, volunteers or staff, what they mention first is the people. For clients, the Pantry is a place where in asking for help they are never asked to compromise their self-respect. For those of us who work at the Pantry as either volunteers or staff, the experience is like being part of a family in which working to solve the challenge of hunger brings us chances to make lasting friendships in the process of serving others. The Pantry is a haven of warmth, a place where mutual respect, empathy and kindness are in the air we breathe.
In the life of every family, at times we are compelled by circumstances to say goodbye to people we care for. This month, the Pantry family will be saying farewell to Kate Boulay and Paula Berg, two remarkable women whose talents and spirits have had profound impact on the life of the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry. They leave us to accommodate to the changing demands of family and professional life, and their shared modesty has made them ask that we not make much of a fuss at their departure. So we will try not to fuss, but we can’t send them on their way without thanking them for the profound contributions their talents and energy have brought to the Pantry over the past seven years.
As Pantry Relief Manager, Kate Boulay has brought competence, kindness, and warmth to every shift she worked. She needed to work closely with clients, manage cases where extra understanding of the rules was needed, and develop and train volunteers. As a volunteer who was transitioning from USDA to registration for distributions, I had to ask Kate questions about detailed registration procedures. She always managed to answer in a way that conveyed that there was no such thing as a silly question, and that she was glad I asked for her help, because it would make both of us better able to serve the clients. Her calm, kind personality was shelter to everyone she touched, and we will miss her.
For the past seven years, Paula Berg has had a tremendous influence on the culture of the Pantry. As Pantry manager, she has brought compassion, energy and creativity to the challenges of hunger in our community. She is a tenacious problem-solver, and has always been able to see each client as an individual, worthy of respect and deserving of kindness. When the Pantry is at its busiest, she has provided grace under pressure, and her willingness to laugh has added joy when it was most needed. She has built the Pantry family, and her contribution will last long after she leaves us.
It is a wonderful thing to have people in your life who are so special that saying goodbye is so tough. So instead of goodbye, we’ll say “See you later.” And above all, we’ll say thank you so very much to Paula and Kate, for building an enduring foundation for this exceptional Pantry that enriches the lives of everybody who comes through its doors. Godspeed, dear friends, and thanks for everything.