A Journey Through Retirement

Retirees today are doing more diverse things with their time. While some leave the workforce and make plans for travel others phase out their retirement to work on a part-time basis. Others become attuned to a need in their community and volunteer their time to improve circumstances for the less fortunate.

Ruby Leonard didn’t think about community service work as a way to earn additional retirement income when she got started with the Central Virginia Food Bank 14 years ago. In fact, her journey through retirement has given her greater spiritual rewards. “If I find someone in the community who is ill, I will go out and help them whenever I can,” says Leonard. “God has given me these gifts and I’m so grateful that I feel compelled to do everything according to his will.”

Ruby’s “gifts” are her ability to find and help people in need, a willingness to use personal resources to help others, and a genuine loving and caring attitude for people who are unable to help themselves. A retired nurse from 45 years of practicing in nursing homes and hospitals in New York, Ms. Leonard couldn’t just stop taking care of people after retirement.

Shortly after moving to Powhatan in 1986, she attended a meeting of the Powhatan-Goochland Community Action Agency where she met then Executive Director, Sam Daniels. “I was explaining to Mr. Daniels that I was not ready for retirement and wanted to do something to help people when he recommended volunteering with the Central Virginia Food Bank,” says Leonard. So, she attended a volunteer orientation and got started with the Food Bank right away.

Not long afterwards, Ms. Leonard decided that her unused two-car garage would be a good place to store food for a local Food Bank. “I didn’t know anything about starting a Food Bank and I didn’t know many people involved in the program, but I prayed to God for guidance in my journey,” says Leonard. “I started storing food in one side of my garage and have recently expanded into a new shed that was built by the local Coalition of Churches.”

Good storage space isn’t all Ms. Leonard provides; she also buys the food for the Food Bank herself. For thirteen years, Ms. Leonard has purchased items from the Central Virginia Food Bank to distribute to needy citizens in her community. “For the first ten years I didn’t have any help nor did I believe that there were people in the community that were willing to help,” says Leonard.

“But I refused to give up and knew that God would give me the strength to succeed.” After so many years of handling the shopping, shelving, boxing, and delivery of food on her own, Ms. Leonard has noticed changes in her physical strength.

Today, at age 74, Ms. Leonard has five volunteers who help her and she receives donations of goods and cash from community groups including the Coalition of Churches and the Christmas Mother. And, Ms. Leonard now earns an income through the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP) at Senior Connections. “I have decided that all my earnings will be put back into the Food Bank to purchase items for people who need them,” says Leonard.

Twice a month she makes trips to the Central Virginia Food Bank to shop for food and restock her supply. Once a month, she and her volunteers will box items together and deliver goods to the homebound. Many people schedule a time to stop by to pick up their box of food and Ms. Leonard responds to emergency requests at any time. On average, 35 people receive food through Ms. Leonard’s Food Bank and her reputation for service goes beyond Powhatan County. Some people have asked to visit Ms. Leonard even when there is another Food Bank in their county.

“I try to give people a variety of things that I think a household would use,” says Leonard. “If there are small children, I make sure they receive hot and cold cereals, snack packs, sweets, and a variety of vegetables.” Other considerations are pastas and soups for quick meals or for people unable to do a lot of cooking. “This is my life and it is what I live to do,” says Leonard. “I will always look for a way to seek out the helpless and those unable to do for themselves.”