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Sugar Grove teen builds shelves for local food pantry as Eagle Scout project

Billy Eby stocks paper towels on shelves he built as his Eagle Scout Project at Between Friends Food Pantry of Sugar Grove on Wednesday, June 8, 2022.

As a sixth grader, Billy Eby didn’t know what to expect when he started tagging along with his mom, Dawn Eby, several years ago as a volunteer at the Between Friends Food Pantry in Sugar Grove.

Today, the food pantry has far greater functionality after the now 17-year-old Sugar Grove resident built special shelves for his Eagle Scout project that allow fellow volunteers to organize pre-filled boxes for distribution as well as to showcase certain items.

“Doing something for the food pantry and getting to see how it’s helping people is really cool and it makes you feel good,” he said. “They’ve only had the shelving for a few months, but it’s something that’s going to continue to be useful into the future so I can see the benefits. I think doing something for an organization that I know helps a lot of people is a great opportunity and not all Scouts can do that. I was able to do something for an organization that holds a special place in my heart.”

Eby, who is a member of Sugar Grove Boy Scout Troop 41, was taught about helping others at an early age. It’s a message driven home from his parents as well as throughout the many years he’s been involved in scouting.

“Naturally when my mom brought me into volunteering at the food pantry I had a good experience helping people out, and I had also done that at Hesed House,” he said. “So when the time came for my Eagle project, I talked to (the operations manager of the pantry) and she had some ideas of what they could use best.”

Acknowledging he had little experience in woodworking, Eby did a lot of research before beginning construction on the shelving, including picking the brain of general contractor Dustin Hawkins, owner of D.K. Hawkins Group.

“While I did not have a lot of experience, I was able to get it done through my research and talking to a general contractor,” Eby said. “I talked to him a lot to see in his opinion if this would be a good structure to build. We also were able to borrow a pickup trailer and some power tools that worked really well.”

Billy Eby arranges boxes on shelves he built as his Eagle Scout Project at Between Friends Food Pantry of Sugar Grove on Wednesday, June 8, 2022.

It’s fitting that Eby’s project that literally will help countless clients receive emergency and supplemental food every Thursday also benefited from the help of others.

“The lumber was expensive, especially the plywood during COVID,” he said. “That was one of the challenges I had, but luckily I have a leader in the troop, Mrs. [Nancy] Loess who works for Sierra Forest Products and they donated the plywood so we could build a top notch shelving unit.”

Thanks to the efforts and generosity of Sierra Forest Products associates Alex Early, Shalene Thomas and division manager Joe Ventimiglia who approved the donation, Eby estimates he received about $500 worth of plywood from Sierra while purchasing the remaining materials from Home Depot.

The project took quite some time to complete, about 250 hours by Eby’s calculations.

“While I put a lot of time in, that was only a fraction of all the time the volunteers put in,” he said. “I really appreciate everyone who helped out. Having all the leaders and adults helped and having supportive parents was extremely important.”

The shelves were constructed on the driveway at Eby’s home. He led his team in constructing and painting them before they were transported and installed at the food pantry.

“The construction part started slow, but we got it rolling and I had many volunteer Scouts and adults help me with it,” he said. “One of the most important parts of the Eagle project is that you have to lead and not just do all the work. You have to delegate work and to adults, too, who may know a lot more about woodworking and painting before you do so it’s kind of a learning experience.”

An Eagle project is comparable to a final exam as it takes a great deal of prior work, including community service requirements and almost two dozen merit badges to achieve Eagle Scout ranking.

Billy Eby stocks items on shelves he built as his Eagle Scout Project at Between Friends Food Pantry of Sugar Grove on Wednesday, June 8, 2022.

“It was time consuming,” Eby said. “You have to talk to the council about your proposal, write a plan and do a report and then meet with them about your project to see if you can do it. You have to earn 20-something merit badges and rank advances so it’s persistent accomplishments over a long period of time to get to this place.”

Eby got there about six years after his first scout camping adventure.

“I remember my first campout and that was before saying some basic Scout oaths and Scout laws and now I’ve got Eagle Scout, so it’s been long journey,” he said. “I’ve put a lot of time into it. I’m the senior patrol leader now, which is the highest position you can be since Scout meetings are led by Scouts.”

He’s also served as assistant patrol leader, sea bass high adventure crew leader, chaplain aide and northern tier high adventure chaplain aide.

“I’ve been able to work with a lot of people my age, but I’ve also worked with Scouts who just completed elementary school and are just going into sixth grade so it’s been interesting to meet people of different ages,” he said. “When I was younger I met older Scouts who are now upperclassmen in college. It’s interesting the people you meet in Scouts. There are a lot of good people.”

Eby is certainly one of them.

“He’s the kind of guy who is always looking out for the younger guy, someone he can mentor,” his mother said. “He was a mentor at Marmion this year as an upperclassmen for some of the younger kids and he’s helped tutor some kids within the troop in math.”

His aunt, Elizabeth Hippman, said it was not surprising that he chose a project at the food pantry that would continue to give back to the community for years to come.

“Billy is a very dedicated selfless young man whose compassion for people and helping others is the essence of who he is,” she said. “He is a very smart and ambitious leader whose character will follow him through life.”

This summer, Eby is heading to Summit in West Virginia for his third high adventure program, which will allow him to earn the Triple Crown of National High Adventure Award for participating in one qualifying high adventure program at three of Boy Scouts of America’s national high adventure bases.

He’ll return to Marmion for his senior year this fall before heading to a yet-to-be determined school to likely study engineering.

“I’ll probably go into mechanical engineering or aerospace,” he said. “I’ve kind of thought about getting my MBA, but who knows? I might get a masters in engineering, an MBA or go another path. I don’t know exactly. I’ve got a little bit of time before making those decisions.”