Story and photos by Mike Lee, Staff Writer
As far as he can figure, 75-year-old Leroy Saiz is on his third retirement.
But there’s one job he doesn’t plan on giving up, even though he doesn’t get paid a dime.
After retiring a third time earlier this year, Saiz says he couldn’t imagine giving up volunteering for the Salvation Army Central Oklahoma Area Command food pantry.
“I decided to do something instead of getting bored,” Saiz said.
There’s never time for boredom now with Saiz pouring his 25-years of Safeway experience into the pantry, which feeds hundreds of Oklahomans each week.
“The people are really grateful for the food they get and you put a smile on their lips and get a lot of hugs and kisses,” Saiz said. “You get more blessings than anything else. They’re really grateful.”
On Tuesdays and Thursdays you can find Saiz and fellow seniors helping stock the pantry for the Monday, Wednesday and Friday visits.
Thousands of pounds of food are handed out free of charge to needy Oklahomans.
Saiz began volunteering with the Salvation Army through the Angel Tree program. Found in local companies and corporations, Angel Trees are decorated with numbered paper angel tags with the first name, age and gender of a child in need of presents. Contributors remove one or more tags from the tree and purchase appropriate gifts for the child or children described on the tags.
From there he went on to help with the Exodus House, a transitional housing program from women leaving prison.
But he’s really found his niche at the food pantry.
“It keeps me active and one of the things because of my grocery background I’ve been able to help some of the other volunteers make work a little easier,” Saiz said. “Some of them are amazed at the little techniques I show them on stocking.”
Liz Banks, volunteer coordinator for the Salvation Army, says volunteers like Saiz are a blessing for the Christian organization. She remembers how one client mentioned to her that they didn’t want to leave the pantry because Leroy made them laugh and feel good about themselves despite the fact they had to come in for food.
“Leroy is a fine Christian gentleman,” Banks said. “Leroy has a sweet, kind disposition who loves people. He treats each volunteer the way he wants to be treated – with respect.”
The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian church.
Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.
Nearly 33 million Americans, of which 139,000 Oklahomans, receive assistance from The Salvation Army Central Oklahoma Area Command each year through the broadest array of social services that range from providing food for the hungry, relief for disaster victims, assistance for the disabled, outreach to the elderly and ill, clothing and shelter to the homeless and opportunities for underprivileged children.
About 82 cents of every dollar raised is used to support those services in nearly 9,000 communities nationwide. The Salvation Army Central Oklahoma Area Command is a proud partner agency of the United Way of Central Oklahoma.
Fridays are when the pantry gets really busy. Anywhere from 70 to 100 people are served
“For me, it’s the joy on peoples’ faces,” Saiz said. “A lot of people live alone so they don’t have too much interaction with strangers, but when you talk to them it’s a new face and new voice that makes them feel good. You show them you care.”
The biggest need Saiz sees on the days he works is manpower.
“We need more volunteers. That would help,” Saiz said. “We have companies that will send their employees out to volunteer but it’s not something you can count on. We’re a little short because some of the people have surgeries or get sick. That cuts into our regular crew.”
But there’s never a shortage of smiles and that’s why Saiz has no plans to retire.
Those interested in volunteering can contact Banks at 246-1107.