SONOMA COUNTY – A North Bay man dealing with a serious health problem has discovered that volunteering at the food bank doesn't just help others. It also puts his own life into perspective.
Something as simple as sweeping the floor can be a problem for Russ Davidson. For safety, the retired Sonoma County Sheriff's detective now often wears a bike helmet around the house, and he had to tear out his front lawn because he couldn't operate his mower anymore.
It all started in 2018 when his co-workers noticed something odd happening.
"They could see the droop. They could hear the slurring in my voice. They could see that my balance was off," Davidson recalled.
Davidson was having a stroke. Over the next few years, he regained his speech and mobility, but the malady has left him in a constant state of fatigue.
His lack of stamina forced Davidson to give up his volunteer job at a Sonoma County behavioral health facility. And it would have been easy--even understandable--for him to fall into self-pity, that's just not a path he normally takes.
"I've always been about service...it's in my DNA," he told KPIX 5.
So, it was that DNA that brought him to the Redwood Empire Food Bank in Sonoma County.
At a weekly giveaway in Rohnert Park, people line up down the street to get boxes of surplus food donated by local grocery stores.
The giveaway helps families put food on the table, but program coordinator, Juana Renovato, said it also helps the volunteers, like Davidson, to forget their own problems for a while.
"You don't have a chance to think about what's going on with your health, what's going on with your life," Renovato said. "You're just thinking about the others."
She said Davidson is usually the first to arrive and last to leave. But because it only lasts for 2-3 hours, it's something he can handle.
"We all bring our strengths and limitations," Davidson said. "And for me, what it does is, it's given me some confidence back. And it enables me to serve the public once again, which is something I've made a lifetime out of doing."
"They're sweethearts!" said Jeanne Martin, as her car was being loaded with groceries. "You know, they're taking their time to volunteer to do this. If I could, I would be out here too, helping."
As appreciative as the people may be to get the food, most have no idea how difficult it can be for Davidson to be out there. After a couple of hours, the work was taking a toll on him.
"Fatigued," he said with a weary laugh, "but a good fatigued. Tired, but a good tired."
That's the secret Davidson has discovered. The best way to take his mind off his own problems is to focus on the needs of others.
"It's tremendous," he said. "It gives me the sense that I'm helping somebody that's just a little less fortunate. And you know what? I'm not naive. If that stroke had taken a different turn, I could easily be in that food line."
So, even after all he's been through, the job has convinced Davidson that he's actually a pretty lucky guy, after all.
"I can do it," he said. "I can do it without sitting down. I can do it without dwelling on the fatigue. So, like I said, it really is a 'good' tired. And they get something out of it, I get something, everybody wins."
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