Lydia Strauss

Tireless volunteer divides time among 13 charitable organizations and three jobs

Lydia Strauss will be there when you need her. Even when you think she won’t have time, she’ll come. She has time for three jobs. She has time for 13 charitable organizations. She has time for her husband. She has time for you.

To Strauss, physically being there for someone lets them know they matter. What some might call issues, such as addiction and mental illness, she calls layers. Every human has layers, Strauss explains, just as every human wants to feel understood.

She helps clients at Dress for Success and talks with sexual assault survivors at SARNCO—the OhioHealth Sexual Assault Response Network of Central Ohio.

That small silver watch with the navy analog screen on her wrist is there to ensure she’s on time. The pens in her car are used to jot down shifts she manages at homeless shelters and time slots when she delivers donations.

Strauss empowers women at Girls on the Run and Planned Parenthood, she helps human trafficking survivors through the Salvation Army and she also cares for animals with Canine Companions.

Strauss, a Worthington resident who spends more days a week volunteering than not, lives a life that is truly for others. In addition to her job with SARNCO, Strauss works with an independent living program for individuals with disabilities and in event management at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

One time she built a changing room for a client while volunteering at Dress for Success, said Matthew Goldstein, the executive director of BESA, a nonprofit organizer for charities. The woman she helped was uncomfortable and nervous. She didn’t want to be surrounded by others while finding work clothes.

“She needed someone to meet her,” Strauss, 47, would later say in an email to Goldstein. “My win was being there for a special client who needed listened to. Really listened to.”

That belief that everyone deserves to feel special is what makes Strauss stand out, said Goldstein.

“We live in a world that’s incredibly fast; it’s easy to make judgements and harder to find time to help people,” he said. “Our lives are better because she is here.”

Strauss also gives in unconventional ways, like bringing food from events she’s catered to people living on the streets.

“I think it takes an absolute special person to do that,” said Molly Preston, manager of community engagement at Dress for Success. “And I think that’s what she was meant to do. It’s something very rare.”

Strauss has two cars because she drives so many miles bringing donations to others. One is an old car that belonged to her husband, Matthew O’Kane. It’s a white Ford Escape, which she calls the Goodness Wagon.

In the Goodness Wagon, there’s always something to give. It’s so packed that the back seats are folded down for about a third of every month, she said.

Last winter, a woman came into a shelter where Strauss was volunteering. The woman was shoeless and there was snow on the ground. The woman was carrying boots, which were sopping wet from being outside for so long.

Strauss went to her car and got out a pair of boots someone had donated. But those shoes didn’t fit the woman. Strauss reevaluated and slipped off her brand new white sneakers. It was the first day she’d worn them.

That gesture wasn’t grand to Strauss. It was just what was needed. Because to Strauss, no one thing belongs to just one person. Anything can be given to another who needs it more. Time, patience, possessions, they’re all the same. They’re for others.

“Those shoes weren’t meant for me,” she said. “They were meant for her, and I was just the keeper of them.”