Celso Dionicio Ignacio started as a volunteer with the Pilsen Food Pantry in 2020 and quickly became a crucial member of the staff. Credit: Provided

PILSEN — Neighbors rallied to support the family of a dedicated Pilsen Food Pantry worker who died this month from complications from an illness.

Celso Dionicio Ignacio, 50, died Jan. 8, pantry founder and physician Evelyn Figueroa said. His only son in Chicago was able to say goodbye, she said.

Ignacio began as a volunteer with the food pantry in March 2020 and quickly became an integral part of the staff, Figueroa said.

Ignacio walked into the pantry at 1850 S. Throop St. the first day it was open and asked if he could help, Figueroa said. He lived around the corner and had been laid off from his job at a local restaurant due to the pandemic, Figueroa said.

“He was one of those people that just stayed really busy all the time,” Figueroa said. “I would just thank him and he’d say, ‘Well I, you know, need something to do.’ Like he would just say, ‘I’m here to help.'”

Ignacio’s relatives declined comment as they made arrangements for his funeral.

Ignacio came to Pilsen from Mexico City about 13 years ago, Figueroa said. He didn’t have any family in the city at the time and focused on working as much as he could, Figueroa said.

After showing up at the pantry offering to help, Ignacio returned day after day for six weeks without any concern about if he was eventually going to be hired and paid, Figueroa said. The pantry was soon able to hire him and he worked tirelessly — to the point where Figueroa and others would have to beg him to take time off, she said.

“There were certain things he could never miss, even if you tried desperately to keep him at home,” Figueroa said.

Because Ignacio didn’t have any family in the city, the pantry staff became his Chicago family, Figueroa said. Coworkers took him to doctors appointments and helped him open a bank account, she said.

Figueroa said the staff misses Ignacio’s presence. In addition to being a dedicated worker, Ignacio was adamant about the “systems” he established in stocking and organizing the pantry, she said.

“He had all his own systems, so there were things you weren’t allowed to touch — it was so funny,” she said. “If it was a delivery day and you were trying to touch the pallet, he would be like, ‘What are you doing? Don’t touch my pallets.'”

Ignacio stuck to his way of doing things, even when there was an easier option, Figueroa said.

“And we got an electric pallet jack, like five months ago, and he kept trying to still use manual pallet jack,” Figueroa said. “Like, ‘Celso, we got a grant to buy a pallet, this is to protect us from injuries — it’s a good thing.’ And he’d be like, ‘Eh, I don’t understand how to use that.'”

The pantry and well-wishers have raised nearly $10,000 to help Ignacio’s family pay for his funeral in Mexico City and the cost to take his body there, Figueroa said.

Anyone who wants to honor Ignacio’s legacy can find ways to donate on the pantry’s website, Figueroa said. People can also donate blood in his memory.

“People are very afraid to donate blood,” Figueroa said. “Only 3 percent of everybody donates blood, but 5 million Americans need blood transfusions every year. So all of us know someone who had a blood transfusion. And they’re life and death for people.”