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Colona, IL Community Remembers Food Pantry Founder

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"Hazel helped a family and decided if there's one, there's going to be more."

Helen Russell remembers Hazel Sletten in 1981, when Hazel asked Colona Township to open a food pantry.

"I was Township Supervisor when Hazel came out and said - 'We need a food pantry,'" explains Arthur "Art" Ash. "They were giving out food in a basement of the Green Rock City Hall and they had to carry it upstairs. It kept getting bigger so she said - 'Why can't we build a building or something?' So, we did."

The Colona Food Pantry opened its doors on the side of the Colona Police Department. For more than 30 years, Hazel and her volunteers used a few small spare rooms to feed the community.

In November 2012, the team moved to a larger location at 617 8th Street. However, eight months later - on Monday, July 8th, 2013 - Hazel passed away at the age of 84.

"She's a good person," says Helen. "She was. She is."

On Wednesday, July 10th, 2013, the Colona Food Pantry opened for the first time without Hazel. Volunteers say it feels different, but their cause - Hazel's cause - is the same.

"She said - 'When you're giving out stuff, just give it from your heart. Do what your heart tells you to do,'" says Helen.

Besides food, Helen and Art say Hazel was known for finding homes for every kind of donation - from furniture to clothing - and every donor received something in return.

"You give her a dollar, she'd write you a letter and thank you for it," explains Art. "She told me last Wednesday she caught up on all the letters that people get. She had 40 letters she'd sent out."

"As long as she could help people, that was the important thing to her," says Helen. "No matter what. Day or night. She was there. Even when she didn't feel good and wasn't able to do it, she still did it."

Art says they want to put up a plaque at the Colona Food Pantry to remember Hazel. He says the Colona Township is also working on a memorial.

Visitation for Hazel is from 4pm-7pm on Thursday, July 11th, 2013 at Schroder Mortuary, 213 1st Avenue, Colona. Funeral services begin at 10am on Friday, July 12th, 2013 at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, 5765 Poppy Garden Road, Colona

In lieu of flowers, Hazel's family are asking donations be made to Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church and/or the Colona Food Pantry.

We first met Hazel in June 2012, when she surprised one of her volunteers with $300 as part of WQAD and Ascentra Credit Union's "Pay it Forward" Program. To see the story, click here.