How one woman conquered hardship to help fight hunger

A woman smiling at the camera.
March 25, 2022
by Paul Morello

Evetta Mahlum simply doesn’t stop moving. She starts practically every day with a walk – sometimes up to six miles in a single morning. And she keeps rolling after that.

“It’s good for me to walk. I de-stress and get my thoughts organized,” she said.

As the manager of the Wesley’s Table Food Pantry, Evetta has a lot to keep organized. The pantry, a partner of Northern Illinois Food Bank, serves hundreds of people in the Kankakee, Illinois area every weekend. 

Evetta has been the pantry manager for the last few years. But it wasn’t always that way. 

“Five years ago, my husband was in a car accident. We went from an income to absolutely no paycheck practically overnight. It was devastating,” she remembers. “The accident turned our world upside down. We didn’t know where our next meal was coming from.”

While Evetta owned her own lawncare company, the single income was not enough to pay the bills and to afford food for her family. That’s how Evetta found Wesley’s Table.

“When I came to the pantry to get food, they made me feel like I wasn’t alone,” she said. “I’m not sure what we’d have done without it.”

Soon, Evetta started volunteering at the pantry, and not long after, she was brought on to help manage the weekly distributions. 

Then, tragedy struck. Evetta’s husband was diagnosed with fast-moving cancer and passed away less than a month later. As she tried to cope with unimaginable loss, the pantry was there for her once again.

“When I lost my husband, the pantry family saved me,” she said. “They have supported me through my darkest times. It means everything to me.”

Evetta and her family recently commemorated one year since her husband’s passing. And while there will always be room for grief and more healing to do, Evetta is moving forward.

“There is no choice in giving up,” she said. “You have to keep moving forward. It’s one day at a time, it’s one step at a time.”