Volunteer Helps People Struggling with Food Insecurity

Penny Svetlik volunteers every Monday morning at The Salvation Army-Fox Cities by assisting between 30 to 40 clients get their monthly allotment of groceries in the food pantry. She remembers one instance the first year she volunteered that brings tears to her eyes.

After Penny Svetlik helps clients get groceries in the food pantry at The Salvation Army-Fox Cities on Monday mornings, she helps stock shelves. She also volunteers at Feeding America and various places during the Christmas season, including Brewster Village, where she helps set up decorations.

“One older woman was just so painfully grateful and so timid about asking if she could have this or if she could have that,” Svetlik said. “I just wanted to take out all the money in my purse and say, ‘Here!’ It was just so eye opening to have this person who obviously was very new to being impoverished, having to ask for the basics of life. She asked, ‘Could I please have a can of soup?’”

She is among 56 members of the Retired & Senior Volunteer 55+ Program, sponsored by Volunteer Fox Cities, who have provided 7,682 hours of service to The Salvation Army in the last decade. They ring bells, help with the noon meal, sort donations in the food pantry and assist behind the scenes in the office.

Svetlik considers her volunteer role as a way to help people struggling with food insecurity.

“Living in a country like ours, you shouldn’t have to wonder if you are going to have enough to eat,” she said. “It’s extremely rewarding to be there for people who are in need, to greet each client. Most people are incredibly grateful that they have a resource in which people are willing to give their time to help them get food. The great joy in doing it is to make sure that people have food. None of this would work without volunteers.”

Svetlik, who grew up in Neenah, worked in data management at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland for three decades. It was always at the top of her agenda to be engaged in volunteer work when she retired. When that day arrived two years ago, she moved to Appleton and began volunteering with The Salvation Army. She is impressed with how the organization cares about the people it serves.

“They are always so very clear to make sure that you understand that you are serving clients – you are serving people who deserve respect,” she said. “We make sure that every person who comes through feels respected. There is nothing wrong with coming to receive food assistance. They make sure that everyone who is served is treated well.”

Svetlik said it is staggering to know how many people are in need of basic food supplies.

“There are grandparents raising their grandchild saying they wouldn’t be able to put food on the table if it wasn’t for the food pantry,” she said. “Some of the people who come to the food pantry have mental disabilities, some have physical disabilities, some have a full-time job, but it doesn’t pay that well. It is different when you experience it first-hand. To meet individuals is humbling and makes you feel extremely grateful that, basically, you’ve had it pretty easy most of your life.”