After John Kohal retired from the oil fields, he hit the links.
“I played golf for a few years,” he said, “before I decided I needed to do something besides play golf.”
So he signed on to work as a Harvest Bag volunteer — something his wife, Eloise, had already been doing for a couple of years.
More than 20 years later, the Kohals — our Unsung Heroes for May — are still at it.
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Each volunteers 15 to 20 hours per week for Harvest Bag, a nonprofit that collects and distributes food to low-income residents of South County who might otherwise go hungry. (The organization is now part of the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County, though many South County residents still know it as Harvest Bag.)
And we’re not talking any cushy, 9 to 5 schedules here.
John, 82, gets up at 3:30 a.m. every Wednesday to set up tables and deliver food to Soto Field in time for an 8 a.m. food distribution. The weekly distribution draws hundreds of people; last week, for example, about 600 clients picked up fresh strawberries, lettuce, bread, cheese, milk, pizza dough and a variety of other foods donated by local grocers and farmers.
Eloise, 81, works the dairy table on distribution days. She passes out yogurt, cheese and milk, all the while greeting clients by first name and inquiring after their health or asking how their children are doing.
Once the distribution wraps up, Eloise’s second shift begins. She delivers bags of groceries to more than 50 people in poor health who are unable to make it to the distribution site.
Other days, the Kohals work in the Food Bank warehouse or pick up surplus food from South County supermarkets. John also visits local farms to pick up broccoli and other produce, keeps Harvest Bag trucks in running order and is on call in case of emergencies.
By “conservative estimate” the Kohals have volunteered more than 40,000 hours to Harvest Bag over the years, according to Cathy Enns, director of community relations for the Food Bank.
“They have a matter-of-fact attitude about what they do, just wanting to be useful and active and help serve those in need in our communities,” Enns wrote in nominating them as Unsung Heroes.
We absolutely agree.
These childhood sweethearts, married 64 years now, are so dedicated to helping others that they rarely even take a day off from their volunteer duties — though they are making a rare exception to attend a great-granddaughter’s graduation in Fresno.
What keeps them at it?
“I’m not a sit-down person,” is Eloise’s straightforward explanation.
With that, she picks up a few containers of yogurt and hands them to the young mom who’s next in line.
“The kids will love these,” she tells her.
Help the hungry
If you would like to join the effort to help San Luis Obispo County’s hungry, here’s a simple way to do it: Donate to the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County on June 3 Hunger Awareness Day.
The goal is to raise $150,000 this year, which would exceed last year’s total of about $125,000. As organizers point out, they could easily do that if every resident of San Luis Obispo County donated $1.
You can donate online now by logging on to www.slofoodbank.org; mail a check to P.O. Box 2070, Paso Robles, 93447, or wait for June 3 and visit one of these donation sites between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m.:
Arroyo Grande: Albertsons and KK’s Gourmet Bundt Cakes
Atascadero: Food4Less and Kmart
Cambria: Cambria Drug & Gift
Cayucos: Post Office
Los Osos: Ralphs
Morro Bay: Albertsons
Paso Robles: Scolari's, Food4Less and Walmart
Pismo Beach: 5 Cities Outlets
San Luis Obispo: First Bank, Food4Less and Thursday night Farmers Market
Santa Margarita: Seven Sisters Trading Post
Shell Beach: Shell Beach Surf Shop
Editor’s note: This is another in a series of monthly editorials celebrating the unsung heroes in our community.
By highlighting individuals who unselfishly apply their energy and skills to lighten the burden of others, we hope, first, to offer these community heroes the appreciation they deserve; second, to let those who could use the help know of available resources; and third, to inspire others who are able to help in whatever way possible.
If you would like to nominate an unsung hero, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.