Get to know the town: Willa Mae Woodbury

Name: Willa Mae Woodbury

Age: 76-years-old

Hometown: Philadelphia, Pa. and moved to Harrington seven years ago.

Occupation: Retired.

Previous occupation: “Restaurant owner for 22 years and did a little care giving. I worked in the Harrington Senior Center kitchen for a while, too.”

Tell us about your restaurant?

“It was Willa’s Inn. [We served] food. All kinds of food. We did catering as well.”

So, food is kind of your thing?

“Food is one of them; taking care of people is the next. I was a Licensed Practical Nurse years ago. When I moved, they said I had to take tests to get back into it, but said I wasn’t doing all that and went into caregiving instead.”

Tell us about

Willa’s Food Pantry?

“It’s been almost two years. A lot of people think having a nonprofit is easy, but you have to get on the phone to beg and convince and get out there to do what you need to do. You have to make it work. I go to bed with it on my mind and wake up with it on my mind thinking about how to make it improve.

“I started with the big shed back there. And I have back problems, but I do a lot of lifting, tugging, moving… so I decided to use this [closer] shed instead. I enjoy helping people.

“We’re open Wednesday and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and I do quite a few emergencies, too. Sometimes people call me and say a family member or friend doesn’t have food and I tell them to come on: pick what you want, pick what you need in the fridge… I ask how many kids they have, how many in the family, etc. I just try to help them.”

Why run a food pantry?

“My husband passed at an early age and I had six boys that I had to raise. Even though I worked in and out, it was different then than it is now. I would make dinner and my boys would say, ‘Why don’t you sit down and eat?’ And I’d tell them I would but I had to clean up or something. Then I would eat whatever was left over from their plates. At work, they would take our lunch money out of our wages. So, I would try to eat whatever I could because I didn’t know what I would have to eat later. I don’t forget when people tell me they need help. We can go up today and tonight we can go down. It doesn’t take more than a minute for us to fall.”

What was Willa Mae like as a child?

“She was a mess. I went to school. I didn’t too much, just play around. My mother was strict. I was fast. We used to play double Dutch and we used to have a thing where whoever would walk on the curb and not fall off, we’d treat them to a piece of candy. Wall Ball. Jacks. I learned myself how to skate in my backyard. My mother bought me my first pair of Chicago skates so I would go in the backyard. I wanted to go to the skating rink, but I didn’t know how to skate. My brother was older than I was and he was in the service so it was just me by myself.”

But then you traveled?

“My husband was in the service. We used to travel around to different states. I liked Michigan.  We were in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan which was half in Michigan and half in Canada. I could stand at my window and watch the people up and down the street and go into their houses. They had a little ferry you could put your car on and go into Canada.”

If you could tell people anything, what would it be?

“I feel like it’s time for people to come together and help each other, you know. We are not strangers to each other. I always say to people, when you ride down the highway, do you ever notice all the trees when you’re riding and you notice that they’re all different shapes and colors and kinds? They’ve been there how many years together? They nourish together. When one passes on they use it to nourish the rest.

“We need to be trees and come together and help each other. It’s nice to say I have, I have, I have… but we don’t own anything. You’re only using it, leasing it. I feel like it’s time for people to come together and be a part of each other. It’s time to break all that craziness, you know. Because you see people get up and go to church and they come out of church and the conversation is different. But God made all of us. If you believe in him, you believe in all people. He made a variety of colors. He put us all here. Look what he gave us.”

What keeps you going?

“I hear families come in and they’re saying they can’t get medicine because they don’t have money or they can’t get food because they paid for the medicine. And that just makes me all the more want to give, give, give. I have a little donation bucket, if you can afford to give twenty-five cents or more, please do. It’s a pleasure. I enjoy it. I do. I enjoy it. Like I said, I remember when. I think people have a tendency to forget. They get a penny more than you got and I think they forget. I don’t think you’re supposed to forget.”

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