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SMILE Volunteer Helps Fight Hunger in Region

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Anna Tillack lives at Asbury Solomons retirement community and volunteers two days a week at the Calvert County SMILE Food Pantry. Photo: Dennis Poremski

When Anna Tillack retired, she had no intention of just sitting around and “looking at my four walls,” she says. In particular, Anna was looking for a way to give back to the Southern Maryland community she and her husband had called home since 1978.

She found that opportunity through SMILE, or Service Makes Individual Lives Exciting, a Calvert County food pantry and thrift store that is a partnership of 12 area churches.

Since 2014, Anna has been a smiling presence – pun intended – at the food pantry, where she spends Mondays and Tuesdays helping to ensure that more than 200 families each week will receive their grocery bag of perishable and non-perishable foods. 

“I began by stocking shelves, but then they found out I knew Excel and my duties kind of grew,” she laughs. A former budget analyst for the U.S. Department of the Navy, Anna is now the co-coordinator for the pantry. There, she manages the weekly inventory and orders food from local retailers and shops during the week to round out the items for each family's grocery bag.

Since moving to Asbury Solomons in June 2016, she has recruited two more Asbury residents, and was happy to find five more already volunteered at the pantry and thrift store.

As so many volunteers are quick to note, Anna feels she gets far more than she gives through her time at SMILE.

“We have so much need right here in our zip code, and when I was working, I didn’t realize just how much there was,” Anna says. “There’s joy in being able to give back to somebody who is in need.”

But studies show that volunteering is, in fact, beneficial to the volunteer, as well. According to the Corporation for National & Community Service, research shows that those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, lower rates of depression, and better physical functioning. The gains were stronger in older volunteers. 

Anna points in particular to the friendships she has made at SMILE. More than 90 people volunteer at the pantry, and according to Anna, there’s something about the volunteer personality that makes for outgoing, cheerful people. “We’re just a really happy group,” she says.