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BERWYN – These days, Julie O'Reilly-Castillo can't help but be overwhelmed by emotion whenever she thinks about the coronavirus pandemic and the hundreds and thousands of people it has affected, especially in the last couple weeks.
Amid the outbreak, people have been overcome with fear, as their health, work and daily lives must fit into safety protocols, and that sense of security seems to be intangible.
"I've just been thinking about all the people that are out of work right now," said O'Reilly-Castillo, a longtime coordinator of service and mission at St. Leonard Catholic Church in Berwyn.
In this role, she has helped maintain the church's modest food pantry, which is open from 1 to 3 p.m. on Tuesdays and serves families in need from her community.
"You feel for people," she said. "I can't imagine it. So many industries have literally shut down, and all those people are trying to figure out how they're going to get by."
At this point, O'Reilly-Castillo wants local residents to know that help is around the corner. Like many other food pantries, O'Reilly-Castillo and her team of volunteers are following the proper guidelines to ensure their own and their clients' safety.
For starters, food items will come in pre-packed items and can be picked up at the pantry's entrance, she said. As far as food donations go, O'Reilly-Castillo has announced one-day drop-offs via social media with two different time slots, adhering to social distancing rules and prevent people from gathering.
The next drop-off is set for 9 to 11 a.m. or 4 to 6 p.m. March 27 and March 30 at the back door of the church's rectory, 3318 Clarence Ave.
Acceptable donations include spaghetti sauce, jelly, cereal, canned ravioli, boxed macaroni and cheese and toilet paper.
These non-perishable items, O'Reilly-Castillo said, are a must-have at the pantry, and she has placed them on a list with "a sense of urgency."
"We're just kind of taking it a week at a time and seeing, and hoping, and praying that we're going to be able to meet the need," O'Reilly-Castillo said.
At the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Brigid Murphy, director of communications, echoed O'Reilly-Castillo's sentiment and expressed that the religious organization is putting out a different call: this one's for volunteers.
Catholic Charities has several distribution sites across the city of Chicago and surrounding suburbs, including one in Cicero located at 1400 S. Austin Blvd. Murphy said that Catholic Charities is in need of a helping hand to help pack food items for area food pantries. She is looking for anyone who is healthy, willing and able to complete these crucial tasks.
At this time, Catholic Charities is not accepting food or clothing donations to limit their staff members' contact to outside donors and minimize the spread of COVID-19. The food, Murphy said, will continue to be supplied by the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
O'Reilly-Castillo agreed with Murphy that this type of work – volunteerism – is important. It's about the willingness to answer the call, and in times like these, it's important for people to be able to lean on one another.
In fact, O'Reilly-Castillo said that because of the pandemic, she has been advised to work from home. But, just like she depended on St. Leonard's students or neighbors to host food drives to stock up the pantry, she knows that there are people out there relying on her.
"You know, I have to be here," she said.
"We'll just have to see how it goes tomorrow," O'Reilly-Castillo continued, "and adjust, week by week."