DeKALB – Weija Chang wasn’t quite sure how to begin her career after she graduated from the University of Illinois with a sociology degree in 2013.
So she decided to spend a year volunteering with the Northern Illinois Food Bank, through the AmeriCorps VISTA program.
“It’s been an experience that has been valuable,” said Chang, who lives in Naperville. “Sometimes, when you graduate, you can’t find a job right away and you don’t know exactly what you want to do. Sociology is so broad. I was kind of like, ‘Where do I go next?’”
The food bank provides hunger relief services in 13 counties, including DeKalb. The organization is partnered with 15 food pantries, a soup kitchen and other organizations throughout DeKalb County such as other nonprofit agencies and schools.
Chang usually works behind the scenes writing grants, marketing, initiating community outreach and more, but Tuesday found her at the DeKalb Salvation Army with DeKalb Mayor John Rey, volunteering for the 9 a.m. to noon at the food pantry in honor of National Mayors’ Day of Recognition for Service.
The DeKalb Salvation Army Food Pantry is volunteer-run and serves more than 2,000 people a month, according to its website. The mayor said he was impressed to see firsthand the work the nonprofit does.
“It’s rewarding,” Rey said. “Being able to see that we are meeting a need in the community is gratifying.”
Chang chose to volunteer specifically within the hunger relief area for a year because she said she was shocked to learn how many people were in need of the services.
“When I was looking for a job, I volunteered at my local food pantry and it really opened my eyes to what was going on in the community and how many people are food insecure,” she said. “A lot of people don’t know where their next meal is, or they’re making really difficult choices, like, ‘Do I pay rent this month, or buy groceries?’ ”
The AmeriCorps VISTA program doesn’t require relocation and has a shorter mandatory service time than some of AmeriCorps’ other programs. Chang said some of her favorite parts about the experience are being able to learn more about the community, gain new skills and narrow the scope of her job hunt.
“It has helped me focus in more on what I want to do and where I want to go,” Chang said. “And at the same time, I’m getting a lot of valuable experience.”