A gift for the table – from Spain?
About 80 pounds of food came into the Illinois Valley Food Pantry last week, which wouldn’t have been notable except that this donation originated from Spain.
No, the food pantry didn’t get in a shipment of gazpacho or paella. Rather, the funds were raised by a U.S. Marine stationed near Seville who saw first-hand what coronavirus was doing in Europe’s Iberian Peninsula and wanted to ease the pain back home.
From a military base in Spain’s Andalusia province, Sgt. Kyle Pikula launched a GoFundMe account, “Overcoming COVID-19.” Pikula sent some of the first proceeds home to Spring Valley so his sister, Adrianna Pikula, could buy food for the needy at Aldi’s. Their mother Marsha then drove the food, and a small monetary donation, to the La Salle pantry and reported the initiative began in Spain.
That made Mary Jo Credi’s jaw drop.
“I started tearing up and could not believe it,” said Credi, executive director of the Illinois Valley Food Pantry. “I still get chills talking about it. But where there’s a will there’s a way.”
The explanation, though, was pretty simple: Spain was ravaged by COVID-19 and Sgt. Pikula witnessed the economic impact of the pandemic.
“I knew there were going to be hard times back home,” he said. “I’m here in Spain and I saw it how it affected locals here. I knew it was going to hit America hard – people losing their jobs and such.”
The initiative began modestly – the food was purchased with part of $307 raised since March 23 – but Pikula hopes to raise $20,000 in relief efforts, preferably before he returns stateside in May and before he fulfills his obligation to Uncle Sam in July.
After that, the 26-year-old Hall High School graduate (class of 2012) is headed to Lewis University, which awarded him a scholarship. He hopes to become a pilot.
Raising funds for the needy came naturally because he’s assigned to a crisis-response task force and he’s also lead coordinator for his unit’s morale welfare and recreation program. He helps enlisted personnel do volunteer efforts to build relations with their European hosts.
Pikula said he personally didn’t contract the novel coronavirus, but that didn’t keep him and his comrades from being unaffected. The pandemic shuttered virtually all Spain’s businesses and kept him out of the local gym. The resulting hardship attuned him to what awaited America, and he launched the GoFundMe site just days after Gov. J.B. Pritzker implemented stay-home measures.
Fourteen donors have responded so far and half the money went to Illinois Valley Food Pantry. The other half went to Feeding America, which provided 1,350 meals for families in need.