By Amy Bowman, Open Arms volunteer
After 45 years working as a pharmacist at a drug store, Michael Winer retired in 2010. His interest in travel, biking and cooking food for his friends kept him busy, but something was missing. At the recommendation of a friend, he began volunteering in the Open Arms kitchen.
Six years later, Michael’s twice weekly shifts at Open Arms are something he wouldn’t miss for the world. “I talk to other people my age who complain about not having something to do,” he said. “Helping out in the kitchen provides social interaction, and it’s fulfilling to know that I’m doing some good by working here.”
It doesn’t hurt that Michael has a passion for cooking. “I love to be in the kitchen,” he said. “Cooking is therapy for me – it’s meditative. So working in the kitchen at Open Arms is a natural fit.” Twice a week Michael can be found chopping vegetables, making sandwiches, cracking eggs and packing food. Sometimes he helps out in the bakery, where French bread is his specialty. “You toss the dough in the oven and it comes out the other end as a nice baguette,” he said.
Most importantly, Michael enjoys spending time with other volunteers at Open Arms. “One of the things I love is being around young people, because it gives me energy,” he said.
Michael also enjoys meeting people with diverse backgrounds and from different parts of the world. “I ask them about customs and how people do things differently in other countries,” he said. During one particular shift he talked to a fellow volunteer originally from Hong Kong, a destination Michael was planning to visit that November. It just so happened that they would both be there during the same time, giving them an opportunity to meet up in a foreign country and visit a fabulous dim sum restaurant that Michael wouldn’t have known about otherwise.
Michael encourages anyone who is thinking of volunteering at Open Arms to give it a try. “It’s a good place and everyone’s friendly,” he said. “We’re volunteers and we don’t have to be here – we’re here because we want to be.”