Volunteers are at the heart of all we do at Meals on Wheels People. In honor of National Volunteer Week, we’re highlighting several volunteers who make a significant impact in the lives of our older neighbors. Today we’d like to introduce you to Martha Han.
Since 2008, Martha Han has supported the Cherry Blossom Center by assisting in the kitchen, setting up tables, and preparing a welcoming dining space for guests. Matha’s involvement with Meals on Wheels People ramped up after her retirement in 2006. With more time on her hands, she decided to resume a long-standing passion—watercolor painting—and decided to enroll in art classes offered by the East Portland Community Center, which also happens to be the home of the Cherry Blossom Center.
“After beginning my art classes, I quickly started to notice how many happy people resided next door in the dining center so I decided to investigate,” said Martha. “I’m so glad that I did. I fell in love with the volunteers, customers, and staff. The Cherry Blossom Center is really such a diverse space, chock-full of different cuisines, languages, and cultures all being shared under one roof. Once I set foot inside, I never wanted to leave.”
A refugee of the Korean War at just four years old, Martha recalls her family escaping from Seoul. She remembers being separated from her father, staying in a shack, and living off of unfamiliar products provided by the U.S., such as canned food and dried milk powder. This experience drove her to get involved with her community and give back to those in need.
“Even at such a young age, I knew that I wanted to help people,” said Martha. “I was fortunate to attend a great Korean college and then to study in Europe. Now, as an American, it’s very important to me to exercise my freedom to help others. We should love our neighbors, and embrace different people and cultures. That’s why I love the community at Meals on Wheels People—everyone opens their hearts and recognizes each other’s humanity.”
One of Martha’s favorite volunteer memories was a Lunar New Year feast and fundraising celebration at the center. As a woman of many talents, Martha is also a member of the traditional Korean dance team and represented Korea at this event by dancing and drumming. She has also enjoyed learning about different cultures herself, noting a time that she learned a lesson in sustainability from a Chinese volunteer and chef who taught her that the parts of vegetables that people often throw away actually make for the most savory soup stocks.
“Every time I volunteer, I not only learn something new but also get to be a part of a meaningful community,” explained Martha. “I have children, but they live far away. I think older people, especially those who live by themselves, are lonely. Volunteering remedies depression in a way, because you are focused on friends and experiences.”
Martha lends a hand at the Cherry Blossom Center whenever and wherever the need is greatest. “It’s rewarding to give back and offer support to my older neighbors,” said Martha. “I will volunteer my time as long as I can, and I hope that others will join me.”
Inspired by Martha’s story? Learn more about our available volunteer opportunities at mowp.org/volunteer.