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When the pandemic began and Hopelink centers physically closed to the public, it wasn’t COVID-19 that Ruth worried about most – it was not being able to volunteer.
Known as “Grandma Ruth” to family and friends, Ruth missed seeing fellow volunteers who had become friends, and clients she knew by name.
On the days when she would volunteer, the Shoreline center breakroom would be filled with sandwiches and backed goods.
“Eat something,” she would say, as a staffer walked by. “There are tuna and turkey sandwiches. And I made brownies.”
Get to know her a little better, and you will learn that Ruth has lived a very full life, but one that hasn’t always been easy. She was a single mom during a time decades ago when good jobs for women were scarce.
“When I was raising my children, it was rough,” Ruth said. “We didn't have a lot of money. I’m a chef by trade, but I was lucky to get a job as a cook, and we were lucky to make a dollar-and-a-half an hour.”
Over time, Ruth’s career prospects improved, and she landed a high-paying job as a government fish inspector. Financial security brought more than a comfortable life for her family and the means to support her mother; it also enabled Ruth to map out a plan for her later years. She expected to work until she was 65 or 70 years old, and then retire with a good income.
Things didn’t work out that way. Long before she could even think about cashing in a pension, Ruth suffered a broken back, began a series of surgeries and was forced to retire at 50.
“I tried to live on my Social Security, but rent and food and everything kept going up, and Social Security didn’t,” Ruth said.
She turned to Hopelink. Asking for help did not come easily.
“I was raised to be very proud, but being proud doesn't feed you or pay the electric bills,” she said. “I knew it was time to ask for help, and Hopelink was there. I'm very thankful and very grateful for that.”
It has been nearly 20 years since Ruth first visited a Hopelink center; initially applying for energy assistance, and later signing up for the food bank. That first day, a flyer about volunteering caught her eye. She has been giving back ever since.
Today, Ruth isn’t living the life she had planned many years ago, but her spirit is as strong as ever. She lives every day in gratitude; appreciating the friends she has made while volunteering, and finding joy in helping others.