Joe Cannella’s life was forever changed when he suffered a gruesome leg injury in a car accident on May 4, 1998.
Virginia and Joe Cannella outside the Christian Life Center food pantry in Berwyn
Virginia and Joe Cannella outside the Christian Life Center food pantry in Berwyn

After nine years of surgeries, his right leg had to be partially amputated, he said. Through all of that, he persisted because of his two sons, Cannella said. And he continues to get by with the help of his mother, Virginia Cannella, a 72-year-old retired school teacher who has her own health challenges.

He’ll tell you this with a steady gaze and no trace of hesitation: His family is why he’s still here.

On a recent sweltering summer evening, Joe and Virginia turned to the food pantry at the Christian Life Center in Berwyn, which serves about 320 households each month.

The Christian Life Center pantry is one of more than 700 partner agencies and programs served by the Greater Chicago Food Depository in Cook County. The generosity of donors helps us to serve food and hope to people facing food insecurity.

“The people here are very considerate. The food is great. It’s a godsend for people who need it.”

Joe Cannella, guest of the Christian Life Center food pantry

The Greater Chicago Food Depository serves more than 700 partner agencies and programs in Cook County. The generosity of donors helps us to serve food and hope to people facing food insecurity.

At Christian Life Center, the mission is about more than just food. It’s about offering compassion to anyone who walks in the door, said Pam Powell, who’s helped run the pantry for more than 13 years.

Despite her long tenure at the pantry, Powell doesn’t take her role for granted.

“I don’t want to become complacent,” said Powell, 62, a retired sleep technician. “It’s something that should come from your heart. My faith keeps me from getting burnt out.”

There were some first-time guests at the recent food distribution at Christian Life Center.

Alexus Watkins, a 21-year-old mother of two young children, teared up when talking about her hopes for her kids to have a better life. She grew up in Cabrini-Green, which was one of Chicago’s most troubled housing developments. As a child, she also experienced homelessness with her mother at times.

She dreams of saving enough money to send her kids to college.

“Thank God I came to this place tonight or my kids would have been hungry,” she said.

Joe Cannella’s hardships are ongoing. After earning a paycheck in recent years as a pizza delivery driver, he can no longer work because of back pain. He’ll need back surgery soon, he said. He’s also battled depression.

He’s not giving up.

“I’ve learned to live with it,” Joe said of his numerous challenges. “I don’t let nothing stop me.”