For many school-aged children, a four-day weekend might mean sleeping late or hanging out with friends. But more than 70 local kids and teens chose to spend their Martin Luther King Jr. holiday comforting families during JourneyCare’s third annual Soup & Stories volunteer service project.
Delivery crews included JourneyCare Juniors, made up of students in fourth through eighth grade, high schoolers on the Youth Advisory Board, as well as parents, siblings and several adult volunteers. All of them braved bitterly cold weather to deliver containers of homemade soup, fleece blankets and decks of playing cards to 175 patients and families throughout 60 communities in JourneyCare’s 10 county service area.
“What makes Soup & Stories unique, beyond providing an extra touch to help enrich the lives of those cared for by JourneyCare, is that it offers an opportunity for our youth volunteers to contribute to a project that truly impacts our mission while meeting the people who benefit from it,” shared Amy O’Donnell, JourneyCare Manager of Volunteer Services.
Each care package contained a large container of minestrone soup from ZaZa’s Tavola Italiana in Lake Barrington, a fleece blanket and a JourneyCare deck of “story playing cards” with instructions on how to use the cards to help families share stories. The EMS Roaddocs Riding Club Wisconsin-Northern Illinois Chapter, a group of current and retired emergency services personnel, collected several hundred blankets, while some of the Juniors made about 50 more fleece blankets. Junior volunteers also helped with mailings, mapped routes for the deliveries and made phone calls to remind patients and families about the care packages.
Soup & Stories volunteers were even able to help a patient named Elizabeth celebrate a landmark birthday for the second year in a row. This year, she turned 107!
“Visiting Elizabeth was a different kind of excitement,” said Ashley Fanco, a high school sophomore. “Right in front of me was a woman who has lived for over a century! The places she’s been and the adventures she’s experienced must be stunning. Seeing her excitement in telling us about her life was truly my favorite part of Soup & Stories.”
Some volunteers were able to establish instant connections to patients through shared interests.
“I had such an enjoyable visit with Mary and her daughter,” said volunteer Noel Mercure of Grayslake. “They have two pugs and I’m such a pug person, so that was a great ice breaker. Plus, Mary’s favorite color is blue and, coincidently, that was the color of the blanket I delivered.”
The care package deliveries were very much appreciated by the patients and family members.
“One man was moved to tears—he was so happy to receive his package and was waiting for me outside when I arrived,” shared Pauleen McCollum of Crystal Lake. “I made four deliveries and each one thanked me for coming out on such a cold day and expressed how nice the blanket was. Seeing the smiles and talking to the families took a lot of the chill off the day for me.”
“My take away from Soup & Stories is that people need people,” added Ashley. “We should never fail to realize that we as humans like to interact with each other. Just being able to sit down and tell somebody about your life can be good memories for months to come. I can’t wait to volunteer again with Soup & Stories next year.”