The Pioneer Press Salutes Susan Siegal, Gregg Berliant and Michael Berliant who share the holiday spirit all year.
By Kristen LaBoon, Special to Pioneer Press
Shivering with cold on a poorly lit street corner, an older gentleman stands watching as a warm glow spills from a nearby window onto the snow covered grass below.
Seated side by side, a family is gathered around a long formal dining room table. Spread before them an elegant meal. The man's stomach growls as he imagines how the turkey smothered in gravy would feel as it sits on his tongue and melts in his mouth. The rolls, warm and buttered, look so marvelous that he things he can smell them.
Aunts uncles, mothers, fathers, grandparents and children jovially laugh at a joke perhaps. They pass the holiday meal from each to the next, taking large helpings and plopping them on the holiday china A fire playfully licks the inside of the chimney where decorations are placed on the mantle. For the man on the street it has been years since he felt that kind of comfort and togetherness. It is hard for him to imagine that life would ever be that way again. Poor and alone he turns and walks into the winter night.
Although imagined, this scenario is all too familiar for Gregg and Michael Berliant and their mother Susan Siegal, who donate hours of their time providing meals to those less fortunate. "It's the gratification" Gregg said.
And during the holiday season the three try to do a little more.
During business hours, the trio own and operate a home health care company called Gentle Home Services in Deerfield. But whenever they can find the time, Gregg, Michael and Susan participate in a handful of volunteer projects in their community. With the holiday season fast approaching and colder weather on the way, the number of individuals in need of care, companionship or financial assistance seem to grow, said Gregg.
Both actively involved in the Meals on Wheels program for nearly a decade, Gregg and Michael deliver food to those who need it in Mundelein, Libertyville, Hawthorne and Vernon Hills. "It's Great," Michael says. "Most of them are really happy to see you and welcome you into their home." Michael said that although he and his brother deliver meals year-round, their number of clients grows as the holiday season nears.
"No doubt around the holidays people are lonelier and in need of that human interaction. A lot of seniors in this area are extremely isolated." Michael Said.
For Gregg, the program signifies a sense of giving back during a time of the year when so many people are thinking about relatives visiting, baking and shopping for presents. "I like to do it around the holidays," Gregg Said. "There are a lot of people snowed in around that time, and they can't get their meals any other way. When I deliver a meal, at least I know they are eating. It makes me feel like I've done something good."
Whether it's to feel good about helping a fellow human being or wanting to give back to one's community, Siegal said to volunteer is the best gift you can give yourself. "When they say that it is better to give than to receive, that is just so true," she said. For that reason, Siegal said she recently became involved in a training course with her Synagogue for a program called Levachare. Siegal said the program offers help to individuals who may be sick or dying, elderly or in crisis.
"Being in the home health care business, you are so aware of how lonely it is for the elderly people. You want to provide them with a companion, someone to help out with things, to reach out and talk to," Siegal said. And that's why Michael has devoted so much of his time as a volunteer with the alzheimer's association and the American Parkinson's Association of America.
"I have a lot of interaction with seniors and I wish I could spend a whole day with them to fell me with their wisdom," Michael said. "A majority of them have very young attitudes. For me, it's not so much the whole giving back thing as a nice way to spend my time."
Also Gregg, Michael and Siegal volunteer for a cause which huts close to home. After being diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2001, Siegal underwent treatment, which she completed in December of the same year. Now cancer free, Siegal and her cons volunteer their time handing out 10,000 pink chocolate ribbons to their elderly clients as well as to local hospitals, assisted living facilities and retirement communities. "We are trying to bring awareness to all the suburbs," Gregg said.
Just as important says Siegal, through her family's volunteer work, she wants to instill a sense of compassion and charity into her 10 grandchildren. "I just hope that they will grow up to be good people, kind, considerate, confident and certainly willing to help others. Their parents grew up that way, so I feel fairly confident that their children will feel that way," Siegal said.
Like Siegal, Michael said his five-year-old son is one of the reasons behind his vast involvement in community volunteer projects. For two years Michael has been a part of a men's organization that spends Christmas Eve at the Paulina House in Chicago for developmentally challenged boys. "I would love nothing more than for my children to learn the importance of sharing and knowing there are people in the world less fortunate than they are," Michal said.