BELOIT—Caritas food pantry not only brings nourishment to hundreds of people in need of food each month, but warms the hearts of those who volunteer their time there.
Here are their stories.
Volunteer Fred Nava started volunteering at Caritas around two years ago after his wife had to be placed in a nursing home due to dementia. Although he’d go almost every day to wave at her through the window, as visitors were limited during COVID-19, he found himself lonely without as much contact with her.
Nava tried to keep busy with his leather work and playing guitar, but it wasn’t the same being without his wife at home.
“It’s hard getting used to being alone,” he said.
When visitors were allowed he began stopping in to hold hands with her and watch TV, but it still was lonely.
One day he went to First National Bank and spoke to a woman there who suggested he consider volunteering. Nava didn’t know where to start, and the woman suggested Caritas. Nava gave the idea a whirl, first mowing the grass at Caritas. The retired Chrysler worker then moved inside where he would put groceries in carts and sort through the vegetables.
“When I was young I used to work at a supermarket, so I know how to move food around,” he said.
In the first weeks he was volunteering almost daily, but for some reason he quit.
A worker from Caritas showed up on his doorstep.
“She told me: ‘we don’t just like you, we need you,” Nava said.
And so Nava returned and has remained there ever since without missing any scheduled days. He enjoys his fellow volunteers and the staff who he said get along well with each other.
“We are always there for each other. It helps. I like it,” Nava said.
Carrie Gumble has found Caritas to be her second home since 2019. She is on disability and said she needed something to do to occupy her time.
“I came and I was immediately put to work,” Gumble said.
She said she enjoys staying busy and her Caritas brings back the feel of a work environment. For a few hours a day she stocks shelves, runs carts of food around, takes inventory and makes coffee. It’s similar to tasks she had in previous jobs and she loves organizing, keeping everything need and tidy.
“Most everything I do, I enjoy,” she said. “I love everybody and they know it. Every day is a different day.”
Kathy Schmidt, a retired teacher, started volunteering at Caritas in 2008. It was among her other volunteer duties such as delivering for Beloit Meals on Wheels, the Stateline Literacy Council and church. Her favorite duties at the pantry include bagging up items requested off of a list by those who can’t make it to Caritas.
“You feel as if you can actually do something for that. Sometimes we don’t have all the options and you have to be creative,” Schmidt said. “Everyone here has a wonderful attitude, and I think it catches on.”
Tom Anderson, who likes to run a ‘tight ship’ loves to help pack up boxes, move carts and do whatever is asked of him.
“I like everything about it. The place is perfect,” he said.
Administrative Assistant Bertha Oropeza got hired a year ago after volunteering for years. She started back when she was a stay-at-home mom. She was in charge of the baby room where parents would come to get clothes and diapers for little ones.
“I like serving people and helping out as much as I can,” she said. “Everyone is very appreciative.
Dodson said he is grateful for what the diverse volunteers at Caritas bring to the organization and community.
“Imagine what Caritas would be like without volunteers. I have, and it would be chaos. We do have volunteers. They are the strength of our mission, ‘To Share the Necessities of Life.’ Every day Caritas is open, it receives the gift of service by the amazing volunteers that help provide for our neighbors,” Dodson said.
The Caritas food pantry is open for service, as a drive-through on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m.—2:15 p.m.; and Thursday from 10 a.m.—12:15 p.m. People must have their identification ready. Households receive at least a 25 pound box of dry goods, bread, and at least one package of frozen meat. There is a table setting out where people can select their fruits and vegetables.
First time visitors must bring a current photo identification card and mail postmarked within the past 30 days. All adults in the household must have a current photo identification card. For children people must have a birth certificate or government document with the child’s name and birth date.