Food pantry director steps down
Michele Zurakowski and Kathy Russell of the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry accepted The President's Award from Bob Atkinson, President & CEO of Oak-Leyden. Wayne Messmer was the Master of Ceremonies for 2009 event.
Benefit Concert at FitzGerald’s May 23rd!
Benefit Concert at FitzGerald’s May 23rd!
Date: Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012
Time: 7:00PM - 10:00PM
6615 Roosevelt Road, Berwyn, IL
Newcomers and Neighbors of Oak Park and River Forest are throwing a benefit concert for our Food Pantry on May 23rd. Come on out and listen to the soulful sounds of the Z Orchestra. Food and drinks are included in the ticket price.
Tickets are available online
$25 for Newcomers and Neighbors members, $30 for the general public or $35 at the door.
Updated: October 16, 2012 3:04PM
Kathy Russell, who saw the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry through five years of award-winning growth and daunting economic challenges, has resigned as executive director.
As of April 30, her former assistant, Michele Zurakowski is acting executive director.
Russell, who is an attorney, said while the decision to leave the food pantry wasn’t easy, she’s very excited about a new job that takes her back to her roots in nursing.
“An incredible opportunity emerged for me with National Council of State Boards of Nursing, and after much consideration, I have accepted a position in nursing regulation,” Russell said. “It will give me an opportunity to combine my nursing and attorney backgrounds.”
Russell said Zurakowski, who was her top aide throughout her tenure as director, will make the transition comfortably.
“Michele and I have been partners in our pantry work for the last five years and I know that the pantry will blossom under her leadership,” Russell said. “I also have high regard for the pantry’s board of directors and its emerging leadership and know that the future direction of the Pantry is in good hands.”
With Zurakowski at her side, Russell helmed the food pantry during a period that saw both its greatest triumphs and its most daunting challenges.
Russell’s tenure at the pantry coincided with the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. That triggered an ever-increasing demand for the pantry’s services.
Between 2004 and 2008, the number of families the Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry served monthly nearly quadrupled. Through the next three years, that demand only increased. Responding to it all, Russell said, required a lot of hard work, careful planning, and the development of strong volunteer and fundraising efforts.
Her peers noticed the pantry’s success.
That September, the food pantry won the Greater Chicago Food Depository’s “Outstanding Agency Award” which goes annually to one food pantry and one soup kitchen in Cook County that exhibits documented “excellence in every category of food program performance,” including client services, operations and process, staff and volunteer programs, financial management and community outreach.
In particular the GCFD officials noted that the food pantry has over 120 volunteers.
That same year Russell also cradled a Best Community Outreach award, the food pantry’s new website (www.oprffoodpantry.org, and a Quality Performance Award recognizing the pantry’s consistent excellence in all categories of food program performance.
In 2011, the food pantry again won another three-year recognition Quality Performance Award. It recognizes excellence across five key areas: client outreach and services, pantry processes, staff and volunteer training, fiscal responsibility and governance.
In 2010, the food pantry also made the transition from a standard food pantry model to a “client choice service delivery” model that Russell credits with minimizing waste, expanding volunteer and client interaction, and preserving clients’ dignity.
It is the food pantry’s clients, Russell said, that she will remember most.
“I will hold the people the pantry serves in my heart forever,” she said. “It has been a privilege to work at Oak Park River Forest Food Pantry these last seven years. I am humbled by the people we serve, as well as the pantry staff, board and volunteers who make this a vibrant and successful nonprofit agency.”
The food pantry serves Oak Park, River Forest, Elmwood Park, Schiller Park, Franklin Park, Forest Park and parts of Chicago.