Doing the "Right Thing"

One of Vickie Engelhardt’s enduring memories as a Pantry volunteer is the first time she worked to register new clients.

“It was 9 am, the door opened and people began pouring in,” Vickie recalled recently. “I thought, ‘In our community, where there is so much need, this is what we should be doing.’”

Vickie has experienced that “right thing” feeling many times during her eight years and thousands of hours as a Pantry volunteer.

A Northwestern graduate and an Oak Park resident since 1966, Vickie spent decades juggling family and a career as an insurance claims manager, as well as establishing one of the area’s first pet-sitting businesses.

Her ongoing interest in community service, however, led her from involvement with her church—First United—to the Pantry in 2010.  As with many new volunteers, Vickie tried out an assortment of jobs at the Pantry, from bagging and sorting to food rescue, before ultimately landing in client services, where her attention to detail, computer skills and genial manner had immediate impact.  There she has helped clients navigate the sometimes complicated landscape of benefits, helping them secure the services for which they’re qualified.  It’s gratifying work. 

“I helped a couple with their Link card application, and when we finished and I told them what they might be entitled to, they started crying,” Vickie said. “They were so grateful.”

Vickie’s colleagues at the Pantry have noticed her dedication.  “Vickie is amazing!” exclaims Pantry Executive Director, Michele Zurakowski.  “You know how in a time of need some people say, ‘Just let me know how I can help’ and then disappear?  Well, during our recent staff transition, Vickie stepped up completely, working at nearly every food distribution for two months to make sure our clients got the help they needed.  She is the personification of the friend in need -- there when you truly need it.”

Vickie says work at the Pantry feeds her need to be involved, part of something important to the larger community.

“I like to work,” she says. “I like to do something where you can see you’re making a difference.”