Volunteer spirit sates hunger at homeless shelter
Mary Vollkommer of Northbrook Our Lady of the Brook Catholic Church takes a moment to chat with fellow volunteers at Evanston Hilda's Place May 22. Karie Angell Luc~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 3, 2012 10:44AM
Mary Vollkommer, a 26-year Northbrook Our Lady of the Brook Catholic Church parishioner, noted how her silver hybrid Prius made little sound motoring from Northbrook down Sheridan Road, past Wilmette’s Baha’i Temple on a gentle afternoon before dinnertime.
Her destination was Connections For The Homeless, Hilda’s Place at 1458 Chicago Ave., Evanston
“Why do I do it?” said Vollkommer, behind the wheel. “I think everybody should find something they enjoy doing that gives back to the community. This is something I really enjoy.”
Vollkommer, an actuary, volunteers at Hilda’s Place, prepping dinners in her Northbrook residential kitchen.
She and her husband George have one daughter Grace, 22, a Marquette University senior studying nursing. Their son George, 20, is a New York Culinary Institute of America sophomore. In her car was that evening’s entree, destined to feed 24 Hilda’s Place residents.
“I go for a rainbow when I cook,” said Vollkommer, noting that ginger pork tenderloin with citrus sweet potatoes and roasted brussel sprouts offers dinner plate color plus nutrition.
Three other Our Lady of the Brook parishioners, Herm and Barbara LeFevre, six-year Glenview residents, and Carl Evans of Lincolnshire, rounded out sharing a meal.
“It’s kind of addictive,” said Vollkommer, of hosting monthly Our Lady of the Brook dinners since 2004.
“Once you get started, it’s really hard to stop, these people thank you and they thank you a lot.”
Inside the Hilda’s Place kitchen, Barbara (LeFevre), a former 35-year Northbrook resident, sorted donated Panera’s Bread sweets, scones.
“Somebody spent a lot of time on these, they bagged them nice,” she said.
Said Evans, a self-employed entrepreneur: “I can assure you, I get more out of it than they (clients) do.
“Once we serve,” added Evans, “we go out with them, we join them, we have conversations, what brought them here, how they’re doing.
“How they are loved,” he said, “Oh, yes. They share intimate parts of their lives with us,” said Evans, his hands clasping humbly as he spoke.
“I’ve seen accountants, teachers, a whole range of different people who fell on hard times.”
At 7:07 p.m., “They’re done, they’re done” said Vollkommer, poking the pork roasts.
Cafeteria-style serving followed. In line was Janeen Jackson.
“How are you?” asked Evans.
“Groovy,” said Jackson. “How are you?” Jackson chose pork, mashed potatoes. No dessert.
“I am from Cleveland, Ohio and just moved to Chicago to start over,” said Jackson, seated now in a large dining hall. Jackson, living at Hilda’s Place almost three months, shares a room with six.
“It’s lovely, it’s not really a shelter,” said Jackson. “It’s really transitional housing, that’s what this place is for, it’s just to get yourself back on your feet.”
Jackson arrived on a cold day last December on a one-way Amtrak train ticket.
“Fear, that’s what kept me in Cleveland. It was time for a change,” Jackson said. “Long story short, I just took a leap of faith and left.”
Hilda’s Place has offered medicine (for colds), career clothing, a place to stow her suitcase.
“When they (interviewers) saw my suitcase,” said Jackson, of that early Chicago job hunt last winter, “They said, ‘Is she getting on a plane?’
“But they didn’t realize that (the suitcase) was my residence.” “In fact, it was comical,” she chuckled.
“Honestly,” said Jackson, “I’ve received many blessings, right here, right now I’m in a better place than I ever was.
To find out more about Connections For The Homeless, Hilda’s Place, where Mary Vollkommer volunteers, Call (847) 424-0945. Hilda’s Place is at 1458 Chicago Ave., Evanston..