September 27, 2009 5:04 PM
Art Molay wakes up every day the same as he always has.
On Tuesday and Thursday he prepares for the day, gets in his car and heads over to the St. Mary’s Food Bank in Surprise, where he volunteers for three hour shifts, packing food boxes for the hungry and making meals for underfed children.
The Sun Citian has repeated the same routine for the last five years and joins hundreds of other volunteers whose dedication ensures the food bank meets the demand.
What makes Molay extraordinary, however, is the birthday he celebrated last Tuesday — number 96.
Molay is the oldest volunteer at St. Mary’s, and as it turns out, one of its most dependable.
Molay is part of a group of about 15 seniors from Temple Beth Shalom in Sun City, who volunteer each week at the food bank. Several of the members are in their 90s.
“They’re incredible. Not only are they mentors to the younger folks who come and volunteer with us they carry a living heritage with them,” said Elizabeth Wunsch, volunteer services manager. “You know they’re going to be here. You can count on them. They have an incredible work ethic. They teach by what they do. We can’t keep up with them.”
“Everything they do with a great amount of pride and a great amount of love,” she added.
For Molay, volunteering at the food bank allows him to combine his desire to help the less fortunate and children, who he “just loves,” with ample free time in need of filling.
“When (my wife) passed away I was cornered. I had to have something to do. One of the members of our temple suggested that I try this, and I’m forever grateful to her for doing so because they’re wonderful people, they make me feel at home and it fills in my day for me,” he said. “I feel sorry for some of the people who come here, I really do. I feel I’m very fortunate in that respect. I like keeping busy and being able to help as much as possible. I enjoy it.”
Molay said his “donation of time” to the food bank is a simple way to give back to the community.
“You have to have some innovation of some sort, some stimulus to (volunteer),” he said. “The only compensation you get is knowing that you’re helping people. As long as I can drive, I’m all right. That has always been my worry — that I’m going to become too feeble to drive and then I’m stuck. But so far I’m able to keep up with it physically and mentally (and) I’m happy to help.”
Without the dedication and time from volunteers like Molay and his friends, the food bank wouldn’t be operational, especially when the need has grown so much in light of the economy, food bank officials said.
“Our hours our volunteers provide us give us over 150 full-time staff positions. There is no way in the world we could function without them,” Wunsch said. “And this year our numbers have gone up 120 percent … we got slammed and the (volunteers) kept up. Whatever you give them to do, they want more. They actually are competitive, too.”
And unlike other St. Mary’s locations around the Valley, the west side facility is largely dependent on senior volunteers like Molay.
“What’s great about the volunteer base we have here is their consistency. We know every Tuesday we can count on this group,” said Irma Leyendecker, director of volunteer services. “Whereas some of our other facilities (we’re unsure) what we’ll have each day, here we know we can count on these people. It’s a close-knit family.”
For Molay, his second career as a volunteer is just getting started. He said he feels, “as good as ever” and plans to continue “as long as he’s physically able.”
“I’m lucky to be able to keep active,” he said. “That, I’m thankful for. I don’t have any secret … except I chose the right parents. Good genes. There’s no secret to it — just luck.”
For information about volunteer services or donations, visit www.firstfoodbank.org or call 602-242-FOOD.
Erin Turner may be reached at 623-876-2522 or firstname.lastname@example.org.