Destrehan volunteer says working at food pantry saved her life

After spending a career traveling to far flung destinations all over the world, recently retired local Peggy Zeiss has found a new purpose in life as a volunteer, finally finding what was she in search of just a few miles from her Destrehan home.

Zeiss, 67, retired in early 2022 after a 45-year career for both Hewlett-Packard and a later spinoff company, working as a globe-trotting business process analyst. Starting her career as a secretary, she says she worked hard to rise through the ranks of the large, publicly traded company with a continuous stream of promotions and added job responsibilities. At the peak of her later career, the mom of three found herself regularly shuffling through airports in countries like Brazil, Canada and other international destinations before finally retiring at age 66.

Her husband’s health had begun to show signs of trouble in his late 60s, and she arranged to work remotely from home in the sunset years of her career to care for him. Just six short months after she retired, her 69-year-old husband John Zeiss passed away following a three-year battle with cancer.

With the decades of stuffing her briefcase with passports and laptops now behind her, Zeiss’ busy life had suddenly downshifted from sixth gear to neutral in the span of a few months. Grief stricken and alone in her Destrehan home, she pondered her next steps.

“I woke up [the day after my husband’s death], and I had nothing to do,” Zeiss said. “All of my kids are grown; my grandkids are even in college and high school now…so I had really nothing to look forward to.”

Remembering the volunteer work her former employer had always trumpeted, she decided to give volunteer work a try at the Matthew 25:35 Food Pantry in Destrehan, just a few miles from her home. Preferring to help with paperwork on the account of a nagging knee injury, food pantry administrators assured her they had plenty of work opportunities for all their volunteers.

“I walked in, and it started just being one day week, and then it was two days a week and later three days a week,” Zeiss said of her volunteer work schedule.

Working at the food pantry, Zeiss said, has helped her better understand the plight of scores of residents that approach local food banks each week in need of help.

“Some of these [food pantry clients] have worked all of their lives…but are [surviving thru the food pantry] because they didn’t [have] enough money in retirement,” Zeiss said. “It was just so rewarding; there are many people out there that are still needing so much help.”

Despite her knee injury, Zeiss said she has seen an improvement in her health from her volunteer work by simply remaining more active at her new volunteer position.
“Before I sat a computer all day, so I might get 1,200 steps,” Zeiss commented. “I’m now getting five and six thousand steps a day when I’m working at the pantry –I’m doing a lot more exercise than I ever did before.”

Administrators at the Matthew 25:36 food pantry said Zeiss’ volunteer work has been a tremendous benefit to their organization, allowing Zeiss to flex her strong office and administrative skills she cultivated over so many decades.

“When Peggy came to us just about a year ago, she was willing to do whatever it was that we needed,” Mary Anne Schindler, President and Executive Director of the Matthew 25:35 Food Pantry, said. “She has gravitated to doing a lot of the paperwork; she also has been somebody that has jumped in when we have tabletops at different organizations or events… to go and represent the food pantry, and be a positive influence on the community.”

Schindler commented their organization has not one but several food pantry volunteer women like Zeiss who were recently widowed, that have since found new resolve in volunteering their time to the food pantry following the death of their spouses.

“It saved my life because it gave me purpose,” Zeiss said of her volunteer experience. “It gave me my new normal; it gave me my new will to go on.”


Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply