MATTOON -- Jerry Parker has been volunteering for two to five hours a day, six to seven days a week for 10 years as the warehouse supervisor at the Mattoon Community Food Center.
"To find someone who puts that level of dedication in is almost impossible. The work that he has done there at the food center is beyond belief," said food center board member Bob Riggert. He noted that Parker also has volunteered with First Presbyterian Church, Mattoon Exchange Club, Lincoln Log Cabin Foundation, and other groups over the years.
As Parker prepares to retire as warehouse supervisor on Jan. 1, Riggert said the food center is planning to divide his supervisory responsibilities among six other volunteers. Riggert said he and the rest of the board will miss having Parker serve as warehouse supervisor but they are glad that he plans to continue volunteering with the center in other capacities.
"You feel like you are doing something good and you see the people who need the food and that's really nice too," Parker said of volunteering at the food center.
Parker, who retired in 1993 as an economics instructor at Lake Land College, said he began volunteering with the food center in 2000 after retiring as a park ranger with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Lake Shelbyville. He said his wife, Carol Ann, was already volunteering with the center and recruited him to help. Parker said he subsequently served from 2001 to 2007 on the board, including five years as chairman.
The longtime volunteer said he got involved with supervising the warehouse after Jim Arnholt retired in 2007 as volunteer executive director of the food center and after Tony Sparks left a volunteer warehouse post to serve as executive director of the Mattoon Area Family YMCA.
Mattoon Community Food Center tries to keep its warehouse full of a variety of food to provide a balanced diet for people in financial need, Parker said. The warehouse is continually restocked as the food is distributed each week.
"You just have got to be organized. If you are organized, things go along pretty well," Parker said.
For example, Parker said volunteer Jim Rardin handles the purchasing of food from the Eastern Illinois Food Bank and other sources for the food center. Parker said he coordinates with Rardin on what food the center needs from week to week and then ensures that food is prepacked into boxes for distribution to families.
After 10 years on the job, Parker said he felt the time was right for him to step back from being warehouse supervisor and to let other volunteers handle the responsibilities. Parker said he plans to eventually use his free time in the mornings to golf more with his friends, but he will continue to volunteer with the food center.
Parker said he will assist the Exchange Club volunteers with unloading of trucks full of supplies from the food bank and he will assist First Presbyterian volunteers with prepacking boxes of food. Parker said he has enjoyed working in the warehouse and in other roles over the years at the food center, which is operated with the financial support of the community and the assistance of approximately 250 volunteers per year.
"The thing I like best is it's all volunteers. Nobody is paid to work here," Parker said. "We have a terrific group of volunteers. You work with a lot of nice people here."