On a day devoted to giving thanks, we'd like you to meet seven people who don't ask for any thanks at all but deserve it nonetheless. They help out in ways large and small to make Tucson a better place.
Adriana Nuñez gives back to the community in the most direct way: Six days a week, she helps feed hungry men, women and children at the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen. Walter Pickett, a medic, has helped everyone from hurricane survivors to roller-derby mamas. David Leimsieder, 21, started a nonprofit that helps gay and lesbian kids get through high school in one piece. Danielle Van Vleet, 16, helps educate kids about animals, and Lauren McCloskey helps find homes for abandoned pets. Mohammad Fazel is a Big Brother to an 11-year-old boy, while Matthew Zawadski reads the newspaper for those who can't read it themselves.
The work they all do serves as a reminder that doin' good can be done in so many ways.
Soup kitchen worker likes 'helping people'
Adriana Nuñez is not, strictly speaking, a volunteer. She works six days a week at the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen, and in return she gets a rent-free apartment for her and her two kids. She also gets paid $10 a week.
"Since I was a little girl, I've always liked helping people," said Nuñez, 38, talking to a reporter on her front porch.
Her apartment is across the street from the soup kitchen on South Third Avenue at East 25th Street. She lives with her 16-year-old son, Hector Ortega, and 12-year-old daughter, Yamileth Moreno, and their little dog, Shadow.
It's just past noon on a Saturday, and the avenue is empty. You'd never know that hundreds of men, women and children had been fed that morning, starting with coffee and sweets at 6 a.m. and sack lunches at 8:30 a.m. (about 600 are handed out every day except today, Thanksgiving, the only day the kitchen closes).
"I put together bags for families (about 200 daily) and I make sandwiches and all the time I cook," Nuñez says.
The soup is ready by 10 a.m., and Nuñez always makes chicken soup on Wednesdays.
On Saturdays and Sundays, she hits the streets in a Casa Maria van, picking up donations from supermarkets all over town.
Brian Flagg, who has lived and worked at Casa Maria since 1983, met Nuñez through mutual friends, he says.
"She is really talented, especially in a spiritual way, and she has a good soul," he says. "She's also real hip to the climate of repression that's going on against people with brown skin."
Maybe that's why she's studying at Pima Community College to become a social worker.
Nuñez also volunteers at her son's school, Pueblo High, and she teaches Catholic classes on Tuesday nights. She also counsels single moms on parenting skills.
Not surprising for a woman who once aspired to be a nun.
How to get involved:
If you'd like to make a donation to Casa Maria, call 624-0312.