Woman's spirit nourished by delivering food

On the cusp of becoming an empty nester last spring, Terri Sasnau was intent on giving back through volunteerism.

"It had been on my list of things to do for a very long time," Sasnau said. "So I signed up for several different organizations."

One of those was Hinsdale-based HCS Family Services, which needed help distributing food at its pantries in Memorial Hall and at Anne M. Jeans School in Willowbrook. It wasn't long before Sasnau became a regular presence.

"I enjoy the people so much," the Darien resident said. "I've done lots of Wednesday night distributions in Willowbrook and have gotten to know the clients that go there."

The permanent substitute teacher at Cass Junior High School in Darien was surprised initially to encounter her students coming through the line.

"I see them in the car with their parents. I introduce myself as I'm having a conversation with their child so they know why the child is talking to this stranger," Sasnau related with a laugh.

Last Monday, she and her older daughter Marina, a medical school student, manned indoor operations for the drive-through Thanksgiving meal distribution at Memorial Hall.

"Just her and I were able to pack the shopping carts for 135 clients," she said. "We always had the cart ready to go. We like to move quickly. We like to be efficient."

Sasnau also volunteers with People's Resource Center, the West Suburban Community Pantry and Feed my Starving Children, and the pair spent the week together helping with various outreach efforts.

Of course, her availability depends on her school schedule, which has been pretty demanding due to the shortage of subs. Sasnau said junior high schoolers are fun to shepherd.

"I like that the children are slightly more independent, and you can have more of a conversation with them," she said. "It's more academically intensive, which I like. And I get to see all the kids from fifth grade through eighth grade."

She also relishes the versatility required of a permanent sub.

"I teach anything and everything," said Sasnau, now in her 15th year. "My description is that I cover any and all classes: music, drama, band, English, Spanish ­­- even office staff."

Sasnau is impressed by the number of families the pantries are able to serve, but said she works to avoid the assembly line vibe for clients.

"I'm always trying to make it a pleasant experience and make it socially interactive so they feel good about coming," she said. "I love the client interaction."

She also appreciates the fellowship forged while serving alongside other volunteers and HCS staff.

"Even if it's a day that I'm not seeing clients at the pantry, it's seeing (office and pantry assistant) Mary (Walsh) and (executive director) Wendy (Michalski) in the morning and knowing that certain volunteers are going to show up," she said.

Sasnau expressed shock at the rate pantry demand as grown in just the last six months. The devout "non-waster" is thankful for pantry partnerships with local grocery stores.

"The amount of food we're able to rescue from the stores is amazing," she said.

As are the rewards she's reaped.

"It's been a greater feeling than I ever would have expected," Sasnau said.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean