Youth pull together to feed the hungry

HCS Family Services Junior Board members work to help meet unrelenting need for food

Series: Battle of the boards | Story 7

Food insecurity may not be a direct concern for most Hinsdale residents. For HCS Family Services junior board members Abby Clark, Piper Frankiewicz and Camryn Saltzman, addressing the need helps nourish the broader society.

"It benefits the community as a whole and makes the community stronger," said Clark, a senior at Hinsdale Central who joined the junior board as a sophomore. "It's just great to see yourself have such a big effect on the community and the people you serve,"

The dramatic spike in the number of clients due to the pandemic has been heartbreaking, she admitted. But it's also heightened the gratification that comes from giving back.

"To be able to have an impact on getting them the food they need, it's very nice to see," Clark said.

Clark's board involvement was prompted by friend and Central classmate Saltzman, this year's junior board president.

"I joined because I love nonprofit work," Saltzman said, an affinity underscored by her concurrent service as co-president of The Community House Junior Board. "It's really just become what I've enjoyed, working with nonprofits, especially locally, and giving back to my community."

Frankiewicz, a Central sophomore, joined the board last July.

"I wanted to get more directly involved in the community," Frankiewicz said. "I thought it was an interesting opportunity because they had a lot of different activities for younger people."

She cited her experience volunteering at the HCS toy drive last winter as a particularly rewarding one.

"Just knowing that you're helping a kid get a present on Christmas and make their whole year is really special," Frankiewicz commented.

To help stock the pantry for the annual Thanksgiving dinner kit giveaway last November, the junior board coordinated a virtual food drive and fundraiser.

"We had a website and we had different teams compete for prizes," Saltzman explained. "We sent it out to friends and families to raise awareness about food insecurity."

The pandemic has forced a lot of pivoting, Saltzman said, most notably the switch from a "free choice" food pantry in which clients select items to a drive-thru model with pre-packed grocery bags.

"We still are able to give people a great amount of food each week, multiple times a week," she said. "Our goal is to fight food insecurity every day that we can, and it's amazing that we were able to pull this off, being such a small organization."

Clark, the board's public relations chair, said having the junior board dimension is invaluable to growing support for outreach.

"Being able to expose high school- and middle school-aged kids to an issue like food insecurity and have them get directly involved to try to solve it and help people in the community is just a great way to promote community engagement," Clark said.

Amy Wickstrom, executive director of HCS Family Services, said the youth have been an asset to the organization's operations and objective.

"The junior board of HCS Family Services supports our mission at every level. Members roll their sleeves up to help with pantry operations, they engage in fundraising to support our work, collect food for us to pass along to our neighbors and act as some of our strongest advocates in the community," Wickstrom said. "We are so grateful for the many efforts of our junior board members."

Frankiewicz said the younger generation's perspective - not to mention their digital proficiency - can help the agency avoid blind spots.

Saltzman has been touched by the partnership provided by their counterparts in other Hinsdale agencies for the Battle of the Boards food drive.

"That all these other junior boards are willing to help HCS and come together for us shows how strong this community is, that they're willing to put their needs aside to help us," Saltzman said.

Saltzman and Clark are heartened that they've seen the HCS junior board membership grow from around 20 when they first joined to about 50 today. Both intend to continue serving with food banks at their respective college campuses.

"I've loved working on the board," Clark said.

"This is where I've learned that I love volunteering," Saltzman remarked. "I think it really helps you grow as a person."

Next year, Frankiewicz will take the helm as board president. She looks forward to hopefully being able to have more gatherings and drives as restrictions ease.

"I'm really excited to participate and organize them and just to get more involved in the whole organization.

All three volunteer weekly at the pantry on Friday. Hearing from the clients feeds their souls.

"A lot them are very thankful for our support for the them," Frankiewicz said.

- Seven junior boards in Hinsdale are currently working in partnership with The Hinsdalean on a seven-week food drive to benefit HCS Family Services (see the ad on Page 23).

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean