It’s a typical Tuesday morning for Ouida Wheeler, who’s packing boxes of food at the Broad Street Presbyterian Church food pantry in the Near East Side of Columbus. At 64 and retired, Wheeler wants to give back to the less fortunate.
She said she volunteers at several places, but since the COVID-19 pandemic, places to donate her time had been growing scarce. “The reason I’m here so much, since COVID-19 started—this was the only place accepting volunteers,” said Wheeler.
She doesn’t believe she should be recognized for her volunteerism, but Matthew Goldstein, founder and CEO of Besa, an organization that puts people in touch with volunteer communities, nominated Wheeler as an Everyday Hero.
“I nominated her because I believe in her,” Goldstein said. “Ouida has been volunteering for Besa for years. She is not just incredibly active in her volunteerism, but she gets other volunteers to do their best—be it at the shelter, food pantry or Ronald McDonald House.”
Even with the threat of the virus, Ouida puts herself out there for the good of others. “She is willing to stand up for what she believes in,” Goldstein said. “And with our communities in crisis, she wants to stand up to that crisis.
“Part of that is making sure people are out there in a warm, inviting experience, and that’s what Ouida does,” he said. “Partners have come to depend on her.”
Getting volunteers as dedicated as Wheeler during the pandemic is not easy, he said. “It’s definitely a challenge, because there is a lot of resistance and apprehension going out in the community,” he said. “Our goal is to provide people as much information as possible and keep them as safe as possible.”
Wheeler, who lives in Orient with her husband, Glen, retired in 2016 from her job as a project manager for Nationwide Insurance. “I did this before I retired,” she said. “I am a people-person. I thought it was a way to give back.”
Wheeler said that since she signed up with Besa, she has logged 450 hours volunteering for organizations such as the Mid-Ohio Foodbank, Ronald McDonald House and Meals on Wheels.
“I do feel like I was privileged as a child,” she said. “We never went without, my kids never went without and neither did our grandchildren.
“There are a lot of people today who go without.”
Kathy Kelley-Long, director of the Broad Street Presbyterian Church food pantry, said Wheeler is a valued volunteer at the location.
“I love Ouida being here,” she said. “She’s easy to work with, kindly to everyone. She takes charge and gets things done.”
Kelsey Jones, a former employee at Besa who still is a volunteer there, said she frequently runs into Wheeler, whose enthusiasm and dedication is inspiring.
Wheeler is considered a volunteer leader, someone who knows the ropes, Jones said. “She absolutely helps to lead the volunteer groups,” Jones said. “She’ll go in and make sure everyone signs their waiver and says, ‘Listen everyone, this is what we’ve got to do.’
“The nonprofit is grateful because no one gets paid for this, and if a volunteer director gets pulled in a different direction, she is there to help coordinate that.”
With a “heart of gold,” Wheeler “is the sweetest person. She is very caring, and she recognizes you,” Jones said.
Jones isn’t surprised by Wheeler’s modest response to being chosen as an Everyday Hero.
“She just wants to do good,” Jones said. “She doesn’t need the recognition for it.”