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Food pantry volunteer coordinator forgoes retirement to continue helping, educating people in need

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ROCKFORD (WREX) — The Rock River Valley Pantry has a pool of about 300 people ready to volunteer at any given time.

Every week, 120 of those eager helpers are rotated in to stock and package food for families in need.

Managing and leading so many people can be quite the task, especially when its providing for others.

It's a task Jim McFarlane has accepted with a smile over the last five years.

"We couldn't possibly go on unless we had a huge staff without volunteers," McFarlane said.

"We're very proud of everything we are doing here at the pantry."

McFarlane has been on a long road of career before landing at the food pantry.

The Rockford native began as a co-op student in the engineering department of Ingersoll.

33 years later, he moved on to be a building inspector and then again switched gears for an eight year stint at Aqua Aerobic Systems.

Everytime McFarlane has stopped one job, the door seems to open up on another opportunity.

"I always kid that I've retired three times now. I've always loved everywhere I've worked," McFarlane said.

That love appears to be echoed by his coworkers.

Leslie Varisco, the office assistance coordinator at Rock River Valley pantry, has known McFarlane for 30 years and credits his patience and compassion for gaining the love and support of his volunteers.

"I have honestly never heard Jim raise his voice. His demeanor is just so kind and so calm and honestly everyone loves Jim here," Verisco said.

"He is probably the best volunteer coordinator we could have."

McFarlane's fourth career as volunteer coordinator is not the only thing on his plate right now.

He is also a long time volunteer with IFOR which stands for Illinois Federation for Outdoor Resources.

For the last 20 years, McFarlane has been an adovcate for conservation efforts statewide, particularly the youth engagement program to show kids the fun and importance of conservation.

"It's important and you hope that you'll spark something in someone that will be the next conservation leader," McFarlane said.

McFarlane's dedication to helping others reach their full potential will likely keep the joke of his retirement running for years to come.

"I'll be pushing up daisies (when I retire)," McFarlane said.

If you know anyone, young or old pushing the limits of improving our community, you can fill out a nomination form here or you can reach out to

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Evan Leake

Evan Leake anchors for 13 News Today and 13 News at Noon. Evan grew up in Darien, Illinois, a south-west suburb of Chicago. He came to WREX in 2017 and worked his way to the anchor desk in May of 2019. He coordinates both the Teacher of the Week and Inspiring 815 series for 13 News. You can connect with Evan at or Evan Leake on Facebook.

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