The other day, Rod Wojcik of Orland Park walked past “Immediate Care Bags” for the homeless in his garage, put together by his youngest grandson Decker, and he couldn’t help but smile. Giving back is a way of life for Wojcik, his wife Lynne, their three adult children and respective spouses, and six grandchildren: Mia, 13; Cooper, 12; Abby, 11; Ella, 11; Lily, 9 and Decker, 8.
When the grandkids come to visit, they often ask “Pa” and “Yaya” to help with “work jobs,” the term they coined for volunteering. Work jobs could mean putting together the Immediate Care Bags, sorting leftover Halloween candy for Saint Vincent DePaul Society (STVDP) gift bags, packing bath soap for the STVDP pantry, or maybe just filling the bird feeders, to name a few.
“Over the years, I’ve always been involved in volunteering a little bit,” Rod says. Before he retired, he and Lynne, his wife, volunteered at Operation Support Our Troops in Lisle, packing boxes of food items and toiletries which were distributed to our nation’s deployed military. Their son, Adam, was in the Army for 8 ½ years. “Because I was working, I didn’t have the time then to really give back. When I retired in 2008 from a career in railroad management, that’s exactly what I wanted to do.” The day after he retired, he started driving cancer patients to chemotherapy appointments for the American Cancer Society’s ‘Road to Recovery’ program.
He did that for seven years, and then began delivering meals in 2015 to people who were homebound for Pathlights. He’s a driver for one of eight routes delivering meals to 170 people. Every Friday, he makes 18 to 23 deliveries which takes two to three hours. With a packed schedule, the exchange is always quick, but it gives him an opportunity to do a wellness check, which is crucial for those who don’t receive frequent visitors. “These people really appreciate it and thank you up and down when you come to the door,” Rod says. “My grandsons have gone with me on routes, which is pretty fun.” If other drivers cancel during the week, he picks up extra shifts.
Currently, they volunteer together with STVDP at St. Michael’s Parish in Orland Park. Rod is the coordinator of the food pantry. At Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter, when the organization hosts a major food distribution, three generations of Wojciks pack food and help distribute boxes.
Rod and Lynne serve many roles at the church. Lynne is president of the STVDP St. Michael Conference, taking calls from people in need and providing them with assistance. Once a month, she and Rod take four to eight kids from the Youth Ministry to Catholic Charities Daybreak Center in Joliet to cook a meal for 40 to 60 people of all ages.
In their spare time, they make sleeping mats for the homeless, distributed by the organization All Gods People. The mats are made of plastic grocery bags cut by St. Vincent DePaul members and woven by volunteers on a loom made by Rod. All the grandkids, at one time, have helped produce them.
The care packages that Decker recently made contain packaged food and snacks that are easy to eat right from the bag. “We add a St. Vincent DePaul prayer sheet, to let the homeless person know that we are praying for them and to give them hope,” Rod said. “Since Decker does all of the work in preparing these bags, he decided to sign his name, in second grade printing, to the prayer sheet. Then, of his own volition, he added ‘God Bless.’ He does this about once a month and makes 12 bags, which are distributed to people on street corners holding signs asking for help.”
Why is it important for families to volunteer together? Our grandchildren help us out and witness what we do all the time and I think it impacts their little lives, Rod says. Our oldest grandchild, Mia, who has come with us three times to cook and help serve meals at Daybreak, wrote in a three-page essay for school, titled Growing up with Pa: “As I watch him doing amazing acts of help, kindness and giving, he has inspired me to do great things.”
How do you choose organizations to support? Within volunteerism, they look for time, treasure and talent, Lynne explains. “While treasure is part of it, we’re more inclined to give time and talent. When the help is going directly to the recipient, as opposed to the organization, we’re touching the people who need help.”
What is a good way for families to get started with volunteering? There are so many large and grassroots organizations that always need help, Lynne says. If someone just gets their feet wet trying something, it might inspire them to do more.
What would people be surprised to know about volunteering? It’s easy to do and it doesn’t have to be a major commitment, Rod shares. “I’ve given over 32 gallons of blood in my lifetime. When I was working, I used to say to my kids, the least you could do to help others is give blood. It takes half an hour or 45 minutes of your time. To this day, they all donate blood.”
What makes volunteering a win-win proposition? The major elements of the St. Vincent DePaul Society are friendship, spirituality and service, Rod says. Volunteering not only benefits those you’re helping, but also benefits you because of the comradery and the gratification of knowing that you’re helping.
Do you have a passion to give back to your community? Local nonprofits have a great need for your support and work hard to find the best fit for you to utilize your skills and make the experience rewarding. Call 708.361.0219 to learn more about Pathlights’ volunteer opportunities or email us at Donations@Pathlights.org