Judy Pelinski wins 2013 “McHenry County Everyday Hero” Award

Community Harvest feeds neighbors, strengthens Crystal Lake

by Kevin P. Craver – kcraver@shawmedia.com

Judy Pelinski

Judy Pelinski has been the head chairwoman for Community Harvest for the past seven years. Pelinski also is the owner of Fresh Look Interiors Home Stage and Redesign. She redesigns the interior of existing homes to rework the space into a modern, functional living space for homeowners and renters. Here, she poses in a Crystal Lake home that she is working on. (Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)

Last Thanksgiving, the Crystal Lake community donated just under 86,000 pounds of food for the annual Community Harvest.

It kept the Crystal Lake Food Pantry stocked through March, and helped the Crystal Lake Jaycees feed 33 needy families through its Share A Christmas program.

But ask organizer Judy Pelinski whether she’s an “Everyday Hero”, and she defers that honor to her firefighter husband.

It’s not the first honor connected to the harvest for Pelinski, who runs two businesses from her Lake in the Hills home. The Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce last year named her as an ambassador, meaning she is among the membership chosen to represent the Chamber at events.

The Chamber also recognized her in 2011 with a PICA, or Pride in Crystal Lake, award for her Community Harvest work.

“[Being named an ambassador] was a huge honor, and it’s a huge honor to be an Everyday Hero. I don’t think of myself as one at all,” Pelinski said. “I think of the Community Harvest as an opportunity to give back to a community.”

Pelinski for the past 11 years has owned Fresh Look Interiors, which specializes in home staging and interior decorating. Seven years ago, she added the Staging and Redesign Academy to teach others to do the same.

She serves as the head of the Chamber committee that runs the harvest, which kicks off every year when Crystal Lake celebrates the start of fall with the Johnny Appleseed Festival.

The event has grown to the point that a minimum of 14,000 square feet is needed to hold the food, Pelinski said. And the number keeps growing through word-of-mouth and the cultivation of friendly rivalry.

Crystal Lake businesses every year compete for the traveling Spam trophy – short for Serving People Around McHenry County – as to which one donates the most food. The trophy now is presented each year at a Crystal Lake City Council meeting. Schools have their own competition and their own version of the traveling trophy, both of which are in fact made out of Spam cans.

When businesses offer deals to people who bring in canned goods to help, it brings the added bonus of strengthening local business, Pelinski said.

“It’s not only helping the pantry, it’s putting money back into the community, as well. It’s helping both sides,” Pelinski said.

Pelinski is an associate member of the Heartland Realtor Organization, whose CEO, Jim Haisler, nominated her as an Everyday Hero.

“She’s phenomenal,” he said. “She does so much for the community in so many different ways.”

Pelinski said she is thankful that her home business gives her the flexibility to help in the community, and for getting the support of her husband, Bill, a lieutenant with the Algonquin-Lake in the Hills Fire Protection District.

“He supports me and everything I do,” Pelinski said.
How to help

The Crystal Lake Food Pantry at 257 King St. takes donations of food and money year-round. Donations can be made online at clpantry.org. Checks can be made payable to the Crystal Lake Food Pantry, and mailed to P.O. Box 1071, Crystal Lake, IL 60039-1071.

The Pelinski lowdown

Who is she? Business owner and Community Harvest chairwoman

Family? Husband, Bill

Favorite food? Italian

Favorite book? “The Secret”

Fun fact: The Community Harvest needs at least 14,000 square feet to hold all the food it collects each fall for the Crystal Lake Food Pantry.