Not a retiring couple: Evergreen pair volunteer time to help hungry

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By Deb Hurley Brobst

When Doris and John Zesbaugh retired and moved to Evergreen 16 years ago, little did they know that they would take on nearly a full-time job to help the homeless.

The couple, both 83, work tirelessly on behalf of a soup kitchen called Street Reach that is operated out of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in downtown Denver.

In a typical week, they spend at least a dozen hours at the Evergreen Safeway picking up expired produce and bread. On Mondays, they haul the food and supplies — the equivalent of three carloads — to the soup kitchen, and then spend a full day doing whatever jobs are necessary to help feed more than 800 hungry mouths.

“We put in a lot of time (for Street Reach), but when you see the people, and they thank you for what you’re doing, it’s all worth it,” John said.

Doris says she does the work because “if I am going to call myself a Christian, then this is where I need to be.”

Street Reach has operated its once-a-week soup kitchen for 19 years, and it’s entirely a volunteer operation. About 80 volunteers show up each week to set up, cook, serve and clean up.

“John and Doris are unbelievable,” said Street Reach director Kathleen Gomendi. “They are always here, and they are always giving back. They are the real heroes here.”

On a recent Monday, John scraped uneaten food from plastic trays while Doris walked through the church hall, picking up trash, giving clients hugs, saying a kind word — and lauding the people who make Street Reach possible.

“All of these volunteers — it’s just marvelous,” Doris said. “I can talk forever about Street Reach. It impresses the heck out of me.”

The line of people waiting to receive trays piled high with warm food snakes through the room, down a hallway and out the door. Each week, spaghetti with meat sauce along with a second entrée are served. Gomendi figures the soup kitchen serves 150 pounds of pasta a week. There’s also vegetables, fruit and desserts.

Gomendi said the core of volunteers at Street Reach is senior citizens, but school groups and others also lend a hand.

“It’s organized chaos in a beautiful, loving way,” Gomendi said. “The people who come here — volunteers and the homeless — come from every walk of life. We are a family.”

John and Doris became involved in Street Reach after eight years of retirement in Evergreen. They moved here from Minnesota after John retired as the president of a small manufacturing company. Their two daughters and grandkids live in Colorado. The couple played around in their retirement, as John puts it, and then they heard about Street Reach.

They spent a Monday volunteering, and they were hooked, with their involvement growing with each week. Years ago, Doris asked the Evergreen Safeway if it could help out with food, and the Zesbaughs say Safeway’s generosity has been overwhelming.

The couple pick up the food several times a week, sort it and then store it in their garage refrigerator. The amount of food they collect is so great that they use their neighbors’ garage refrigerators, too.

On Monday mornings, they load the food into a large SUV and haul it to the church at 1600 Grant St., where it is turned into filling meals to feed the homeless.

Doris jokes that volunteering for Street Reach keeps the couple out of mischief, though both their dedication and lack of volunteers are so great that they rarely travel.

Doris was excited to get copies of the Canyon Courier story about their volunteering to give to their children. “Our kids need to see that their mom and dad do OK,” she said.

Contact Deb Hurley Brobst at deb@evergreenco.com or 303-350-1041. Check www.CanyonCourier.com for updates.

Looking for help

While doing work for Street Reach is a labor of love for the Zesbaughs, they hope other Evergreen residents want to get involved.

“We can't keep doing this forever,” Doris said. “We hope someone else will want to help take over the work.”

To find out more about the Zesbaughs’ volunteering, contact them at 303-670-8110.