Empowering Communities

Serving up Kindness, One Kettle at a Time

June 27, 2017
 Eva Nowak in the Soup Kettle’s pantry.

Eva Nowak in the Soup Kettle’s pantry.

Eva Nowak was five years old when she and her family immigrated to Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood from Poland. She was fascinated by the large crowds, even larger buildings, and grocery stores filled to the brim with more food than she had ever seen. 

As a child growing up in a working-class neighborhood, she remembers seeing many of her neighbors struggling to make ends meet. They were good, hardworking people and she couldn’t understand why there wasn’t enough to go around. Thankfully, her family and the community always stepped up to help those who had fallen on hard times. 

Decades later, it’s no surprise that Eva, a work planner for ComEd in the Mt. Prospect office, is being recognized for her giving spirit. 

Exelon recently honored Eva at its Energy for the Community Awards, the company’s highest honor recognizing employees for their exceptional commitment to volunteering and advancing our communities. In addition to being honored by her peers, Eva was awarded a $5,000 grant for her charity of choice, the Soup Kettle at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Elgin.

“Charity is in my blood,” Eva says. “Success has been a blessing in my life, and I enjoy seeing how much I can help by giving back.”

Giving is what Eva does best. About four years ago, Eva and her husband were asked by a friend to help volunteer at their local soup kitchen run by the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Elgin. What started as just a few visits a year turned into much more after the pastor asked Eva if she would become the kitchen’s coordinator. Now, Eva runs the kitchen every Thursday, serving dinner to approximately 100 people per week. 

“I was worried about the commitment at first,” Eva says. “But now, we just want to be here to give people what they need when they need it. Our door is open.”

Eva’s volunteer staff (about 20 per shift) starts prepping for the evening meal at lunchtime. Using food from the Illinois Food Bank or other donations, every meal is precisely planned using the ingredients they have on hand. Eva tries her best to make each meal special, as she wants to make sure the guests are being served more than just food on a plate. 

“I’ve gotten to know these people,” she says. “We talk; we sit down and have meals together. You start to develop a whole new level of familiarity.”

The Episcopal Church of the Redeemer has decided to let Eva choose what to do with the grant. As the church is 100 years old, she has many choices, but wants the funds to be used to update the plumbing and other kitchen equipment. 

Aside from her efforts with the church, Eva has also taken on the role of volunteer coordinator at her office at ComEd. She regularly encourages her colleagues to sign up for group volunteer activities. Last Christmas, she and her colleagues supported eight families in need. ComEd employees as a whole logged a record-breaking 20,000 hours volunteering in communities throughout ComEd’s service territory in 2016.

As for the future, Eva has been energized by her recent recognition and is putting together a list of priorities for the church. She is looking forward to being able to serve more cooking – and kindness – from her newly upgraded kitchen.