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Community First CU teams serve up hope and compassion at Pillars

Volunteers find meal prep, service at adult warming shelter humbling, rewarding

February 22, 2019

Humbling. Eye-opening. Rewarding. Grateful.
These are just a few of the thoughts and emotions offered by Community First volunteers after two teams of employees collaborated to serve meals to homeless shelter clients earlier this month, putting their Meraki (i.e. serving with heart, soul and love while engaged in our communities) on display for those who are less fortunate.
A team led by Jenn Stepniak served about 75 residents of the Pillars Adult Shelter on Feb. 7 while the Greenville team headed by Laura Borree and Julie Champeau served about 65 on Feb. 10.
“It was really neat to see how appreciative they were,” said Stepniak, who received help at home from her daughters in browning 14 pounds of hamburger the night before. They served Sloppy Joe’s (for easy reheating any leftovers), salad, chips, pickles and an individually wrapped oatmeal cream pie.
Snowstorm comfort
On a cold, snowy night, Stepniak was surprised to see that two of the younger shelter clients were teenagers. “It was sad. Your heart just wants to give them more but you don’t know their situation.”

Joining Stepniak as servers were: Jodi Franklin, Mike Schmoll, Richelle Otto, Marty Thurber and Julie Bestol. Other contributors were: Kaite Hensley, Jolene Heuchert, Cathy Mutschler and Jane Bechtel.
The team purchased more than the recommended 10 pounds of meat and were glad they did. After all had gone through once, they set aside some for clients arriving later and the dozen clients who had jobs to go to the next day. “Then people had seconds and it was gone,” Stepniak said. “They loved it.”
“It was really nice to be able to help and see their smiling faces,” she said. “To have them genuinely thank you, that was amazing.”
A first-time server, Otto said, “The individuals at Pillars were so gracious and thankful for our assistance.”
Three nights later
“The experience I had a Pillars was very eye-opening,” said Audrey Van Price, also a first-time server. “It really makes you thankful for every little thing in your life. They all were grateful for us simply taking time out of our day to be there and serve them a hot meal. I would definitely do this again, and recommend it to everyone.”
Joining Borree, Champeau and Van Price as servers were: Buddy Isbell and Aishling Willenkamp. Also contributing were Jody Cota and Gina Zilisch. The team also chose to serve Sloppy Joe’s along with fruit, veggies, chips and a dessert.
“The clients are very grateful, during and after they are served,” Champeau said. “I like it because it doesn’t take a lot of time, and the rewards are big.”
Isbell called it “not only rewarding but very humbling. Helping prepare and serving the food to the clients at Pillars really made me thankful for what I have. Seeing how thankful the residents were made it all worth it.”
“My heart was so full,” said Willenkamp of the experience. “It’s very sad to see people in that situation. I was happy to help in this small way and I left feeling even more blessed for the life I have. My husband and I will be doing this again. We absolutely loved it.”
How to help Pillars
Volunteers prepare and serve meals at the shelter throughout the year and groups or individuals are encouraged to consider doing so. Pillars was created Oct., 1, 2018, with the merger of three long-standing nonprofits: Homeless Connections, Housing Partnership of the Fox Cities and Fox Valley Warming Shelter. To learn more volunteer opportunities at Pillars go to