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Holy Family Food Pantry run with ‘beautiful spirit’

Holy Family Food Pantry Director GrettDieck Waukegan leads prayer with volunteers pantry before working with clients. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media

Holy Family Food Pantry Director Gretta Dieck of Waukegan leads a prayer with volunteers at the pantry before working with clients. | Buzz Orr~Sun-Times Media

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Holy Family Food Pantry

912 8th St., Waukegan

(847) 623-2112

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Updated: February 6, 2013 6:06AM

WAUKEGAN — When Gretta Dieck, director of the Holy Family Food Pantry on Waukegan’s South Side, wants to explain how the pantry does what it does, which in 2012 was to provide healthy food and other help to 29,993 individuals, she introduces the pantry’s volunteers.

There is Tom and Helen Kerf of Lake Bluff. One day a week, Tom hitches a two-wheel trailer to his Acura SUV and heads out to glean donations from Fresh Market and Jewel in Lake Forest, hauls the food in banana boxes to the trailer and delivers it to the pantry. One day a week, Helen collects, wraps and delivers leftovers from Starbucks in Lake Bluff.

“My wife says it’s about feeding the children,” Tom Kerf said.

Then there are Juan and Yolanda Hernandez of Waukegan, who volunteer four days a week. Juan fixes what needs fixing around the pantry and every third day over the holidays, he visited to check the temperature of the pantry’s many freezers.

Yolanda sorts, shelves and distributes donated food. She was a migrant worker as a child and moved from Texas to Waukegan in 1967. The family of 10 lived in a one-bedroom house with no running water. She remembers being hungry and she remembers being cold.

“I know how it feels when you don’t have enough to eat,” she said.

Other volunteers include nuns, teens and retirees, like teacher Anne Bruce of Lake Forest who reads to children while their parents are busy.

“The pantry could not exist without volunteers,” Dieck said, unlatching what used to be a confessional in old St. Bart’s Catholic Church to reveal shelves of detergent and cleaning supplies. A short walk down a hall and through some doorways is the former church sanctuary. Where priests once said Mass at an altar, people now sit in rows, waiting for canned vegetables, boxes of pasta and maybe a frozen chicken.

The pantry is a program of Community Social Services, the outreach agency of Most Blessed Trinity Parish in Waukegan, which also operates Holy Family Soup Kitchen, which serves dinner to an average of 165 families four nights per week; a year-round emergency shelter in conjunction with PADS Lake County; and the Father Gary Graf Center, which offers citizenship, education and legal services to immigrants.

“There’s just a beautiful spirit here and a tremendous amount of humility,” said Dieck, who has lived in Waukegan for more than four decades. “We serve our clients with dignity and a great deal of concern. There is no judgment. They are human beings in need and we’re meeting that need.”

Dieck said that she sometimes looks around at the pantry’s emptying shelves and wonders if the food will keep coming. The next day she will get a call, like the one from a grocer who inquired if the pantry could use 8,000 pounds of pumpkin and lentil soup and turkey gravy — sustenance from Trader Joe’s that has another full year of shelf life.

“We had so much, our soup had soup,” Dieck joked. The soup still hasn’t run out and every time Dieck walks past the pallets piled with it, she is reminded of how blessed it is to give, and to receive.

“I just say ‘Thank the Lord,’” Dieck said. “It just keeps raining food.”

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