If you’ve ever set foot inside the Sussex Food Pantry over the past 13 years, chances are you’ve probably encountered Dolores Becker.
Dolores and her husband Chester have lived in Sussex for 22 years, and they're bringing new meaning to the word "volunteer."
Dolores, 82, works in the clothing and house wares donation section while Chester, 81, who decided to start volunteering his time last year, works in the food donation area, stocking the shelves. For this couple, it’s more than just another chance to do something together. It’s a passion to simply help those less fortunate.
“I wanted to do something,” Dolores explained. “We’re retired and I didn’t want to spend all of my life just at home doing nothing. I went to work at the Sussex library for awhile, and that was before computers so I was doing filing. Once they got the computers, my work kind of fizzled out, so I decided to go to the food pantry and see if there were any opportunities.”
Indeed, there was an opportunity for Dolores in the house wares donation area of the pantry. She started out working one day a week and did that for a few years.
“We’re retired and I didn’t want to spend all of my life just at home doing nothing."
“Little by little, the days just (increased) because there was more and more to do,” said Becker. “Of course, now the pantry is completely different than it used to be as far as what we get and quantity. It takes up all of my mornings and I like it very, very much.”
For the past 10 years, Dolores has worked five days a week and, sometimes, even more. Ask her about the satisfaction she gets from putting in all of those hours and she’ll point out the simple joys of working with other people.
“I like working with the people,” said Becker. “Jennifer (Walz, the executive director of Sussex Outreach Services) is a wonderful director. I like working with Trish Anderson, the social worker at the facility and, actually, I’ve liked working with every director we’ve had. They all bring something that’s very great to the pantry.”
Always Busy, Never Bored
Although the pantry is only open to the needy public on Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, Becker says she's always busy. On a typical day when she arrives for duty, there’s always something important to do.
“The day after the pantry is opened is the busiest time,” said Becker. “We take the hangers down and take the clothes off the racks, those that have been there about two weeks, and give them to other charitable sources. We take the clothes off because we know there’s going to be a lot more on that particular day.”
The next task is to go through the bags and boxes that come in every day, generally a very large quantity of items. This keeps all 13 volunteers busy.
“Those things that aren’t donated (that we wish would be) include children’s and baby clothes for infants up to a year-old,” said Becker. “We get a good quantity of that, but it’s never enough.”
This time of year, there are so many yard sales that feature baby clothes, and that’s actually part of the problem for the pantry. The summer months mark a lull in donations, so the volunteers have to get crafty about keeping shelves full.
“It’s just that we don’t get them,” said Becker. “The clothes are sold at yard sales and we get the leftovers from a lot of rummage sales. We get our greatest quantity of household items in the summertime but the baby clothing we get is left over from those sales.”
Another item in short supply is silverware.
“Of course, we get a lot of dishes, cooking pots and things like that, but we don’t get a lot of silverware,” said Becker. “As far as clothes are concerned, we usually get everything. I can’t say that we’re short of any kind of clothes except for baby clothes. The clothes are just a Godsend for our area, and I understand we are the only pantry in the area that has a clothes pantry along with the food pantry, and it’s very popular.”
"Most of our volunteers work one day a week, and what we need is someone who will work consistently..."
The pantry is also involved in sharing the donations in another special way.
“We save our new clothing or, when we find new toys, we save them all year long and then at Christmas time, we give these out for people to choose as Christmas gifts,” said Becker. “It’s surprising how many new clothes and new toys we do get.”
In other cases, the pantry gives donated items to other charitable organizations like Wellington Park Lutheran Church in Milwaukee which collects surplus clothes from the Sussex Food Pantry twice a week. These clothes are distributed to the poor in the inner city areas. Another beneficiary of surplus items is United Methodist Children’s Services.
Beyond the donations, Dolores also wants to spread the word that the pantry needs more dedicated volunteers.
“I think we’re a good group of people and they all get along well,” said. “It’s a happy group and we have a happy atmosphere. There’s always room for another volunteer. Most of our volunteers work one day a week and what we need is someone who will work consistently, not just come in and work for an hour or two when they feel like it.
“There really is a little training involved with our procedure. For instance, we mark the pants on what size they are, where things go. Every volunteer needs to know where things go so they can work on their own. We need someone who will work consistently one day a week.”
For information on donating or volunteering with the food pantry, please visit the pantry's website.