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Food pantry, volunteers fight need in DuPage County

HINSDALE – It might be easy to assume that in an affluent town like Hinsdale that there aren’t people in need or in distress.

“There is a total misconception that there isn’t need here,” said Debbie Baker, HCS Family Services associate executive director.

HCS Family Services is nonprofit organization that serves the residents of southeast DuPage County in preventing homelessness and food insecurity. About four years ago, the village provided a free space in the Memorial Building to HCS to open a food pantry for the less fortunate.

“You wouldn’t think [a food pantry] would be found in Hinsdale, but that really says something about the village and their commitment,” said Executive Director Albert Sunseri. “What the people in this community have done is they’re really supporting the less fortunate among us.”

Besides Hinsdale, HCS serves Burr Ridge, Clarendon Hills, Darien, Oakbrook, Westmont and Willowbrook.

The food pantry in Hinsdale now is open three days a week and used to serve on average 25 people each opening, but that number has gone up to anywhere from 35 to 40.

“To be self-sufficient in DuPage County you have to earn over $65,000 a year, so it’s one of the most expensive counties to live in,” Baker said.

This isn’t your typical food pantry, Sunseri said. Rather than have someone just hand out a couple of bags of food to each person, the HCS food pantry is designed like a grocery store where customers get carts, browse items and pick foods and beverages for their families.

Sunseri looked on as a woman smiled brightly, her cart filled to the brim with breads, meat and nonperishable foods.

“Look at that,” Sunseri said. “That can feed her and her family for days. That will do a lot of good for her.”

The food pantry serves about 4,100 families a year, but the outreach from that stretches to about 23,500 family members, Sunseri said.

On Sept. 6, HCS hosted a “Kids Service” day where those as young as 6 got to volunteer at the food pantry and help in any way they could to assist the less fortunate. One of those volunteers included the principal of Hinsdale South High School, Brian Waterman, who joined the HCS Family Services board in July.

This was his first time though volunteering at the food pantry.

“It’s obviously beneficial to the community and it’s outstanding we have kids here as young as 6 given the opportunity to give back,” Waterman said. “It’s good to get the students started towards that goal of service at a young age.”

Waterman was also accompanied by his two kids who assisted in volunteering.

Another first-time volunteer was Dan Allen, 16, of Burr Ridge, who was asked by a friend to help out.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Allen said. “You can tell everyone is really grateful.”

Sunseri has served on the board for about a year and in that time he said he’s gotten to know 95 percent of the people who come through the pantry. After he retired from his previous job, Sunseri said he was looking to do something significant in his life.

“This is one of the best jobs I’ve ever had in my life,” he said. “This job was just perfect for what I wanted to do. I love it here.”

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