In the adjoining rooms, 15 volunteers were helping a room full of
"customers," as staff likes to call pantry clients. As customers
filled their carts, a line of roughly 20 individuals waited outside
the cramped building for others to finish shopping so they could
take their place inside the mini-grocery store. For many of those at
the pantry, these foods are essential to them and their family's
Bill was born in Freeport. His father, George, was a
cellulose chemist, and his mother, Bea, was a homemaker. Bill enjoys
telling of his father's foresight in the world of cellulose, saying
that it was his father who developed the synthetic sponge that is
used today under the 3M name Scotch-Brite.
According to Bill, he spent much of his early years as Tom Sawyer
-- fishing, hunting and trapping on a 10-acre homestead along the
Mississippi River at Prairie du Chien, Wis. Later, he attended the
University of Wisconsin in Platteville, Wis., as well UW-Madison and
Sangamon State University. His academic travels concluded with a
degree in psychology.
It was while he attended school in Platteville that he met and
married Janet. They have two daughters, Heather and Tara.
Bill worked for the state of Illinois in various capacities,
including time with the Lincoln Developmental Center and the
University of Illinois.
In 2001 he retired, but as it turned out, this was only
temporary. Overton had intended to spend time gathering and writing
a family history for future generations to read, and although he
says he has finished about 35 pages, he says that at the current
rate he is going, he won't finish it in this lifetime.
His detour from being a man of leisure and letters happened
accidently. It was one Tuesday in 2003 that Bill decided to become a
volunteer at the food pantry. He next decided to come both Tuesdays
and Thursdays to help out. After a few years of active involvement,
he became the vice president, and then president just over three
Asked how many hours he puts in now working to keep the pantry
running on all cylinders, Overton wasn't sure. "It can be a
seven-days-a-week job," he said.
Norm Newhouse, the food pantry's volunteer manager, echoed
Overton's time spent at the pantry. Newhouse himself averages over
two days a week, but he says Overton puts in more time than that.
"Bill is always doing something for the pantry," Newhouse said.
"He is extremely well-organized, all the way down to what goes where
on the shelves. He also spends a lot of time making food purchases
of what we need to keep the shelves stocked."
Charlie Lee, co-owner of the IGA, said that Overton was an
excellent choice for this week's personality. "Bill is a very hard
worker. He is extremely diligent with how he spends food pantry
money," Lee said. "I deal with a lot of pantries, but Bill gets the
most bang for the buck out of anyone. They (the food pantry) are
lucky having someone like Bill in their organization."
Kathy Horn at Kroger also says that the pantry is lucky to have
someone like Overton. "He is a real hard worker and is always doing
something to help the pantry," Horn said. "Bill really cares about
the people of Logan County, and it shows in how much the pantry does
for the community."
Newhouse gives credit to Overton for the "Total Choice" program,
in which families get to pick out what they like rather than just
being given bags of groceries filled with items they aren't
interested in. It is this full usage of food from the pantry that
has helped not only with giving more usable groceries to customers,
but also has greatly decreased wasted foodstuffs that would be
thrown away by customers.
[to top of second column]
"Bill is always coming up with new ideas," Norm said.
One new idea has been to have one Wednesday a month when only
seniors use the pantry. The smaller group setting affords seniors
the benefit that they don't have to stand in long lines, and staff
can spend more time helping them with their groceries. Overton
thinks this will be another boon for customers. "I think there are a
lot of seniors out there who need our help, and we are hoping the
word will get around on our being open on Wednesday just for them,"
Another plan for the pantry is to use a proxy system, where
individuals are chosen by someone to be able to pick up their
groceries. It is another good idea that will add strain with keeping
the pantry's shelves full, but Overton has total faith in the
support of the community. He focuses his concern on how many more
people the pantry can help instead of how much more work it will
mean for him, the pantry volunteers and the community that continues
to help stock the pantry's shelves.
There is still more to being the president of the pantry than the
operation of the store and careful planning and buying. As
president, Overton is the representative of the pantry on those
occasions when a church group or civic organization wants a speaker
to explain all that the pantry does, and requests for Bill to speak
on behalf of the pantry are numerous.
A great many food drives are on weekends or holidays, and Bill
often is one of the people at the doors of the pantry to accept food
donations and bring foodstuffs into the building for sorting and
Bill also helps keep the excellent records the pantry has and can
at a moment's notice recite any key statistic a questioner might
have. As an example, Bill said that for 2008, the Lincoln/Logan Food
Pantry served over 1,100 families and over 3,600 residents of Logan
County. That number represents 12 percent of the county's total
Overton wanted to stress that he doesn't mind the fact he has
taken on a full-time job as a volunteer at the food pantry and says
he has no plans to stop working and helping in the foreseeable
Overton pointed out how he is just one small part of this
amazing community service organization. "This county is so
generous," he said. "All the churches, all the organizations and the
businesses in this community are so giving. We can't thank this
community enough for all they have done and are doing. We have 50 or
60 volunteers, and they are active volunteers. We had 25 people here
working Tuesday, and there are 15 different volunteers here today."
We, too, can't thank Bill Overton enough for all he is doing on
behalf of the community. However, our "Total Choice" is to honor
Bill Overton by announcing him as this week's Personality of the