A sight to behold

At 85, and legally blind, Jody Chinn still does volunteer work

Despite being legally blind, 85-year-old Jody Chinn volunteers and helps out where she can. Enlargephoto

Sam Green/Cortez Journal

Despite being legally blind, 85-year-old Jody Chinn volunteers and helps out where she can.

Jody Chinn strives to help others. For 22 years she has been an active volunteer in the Cortez community. She cannot drive a car because she is legally blind and a back surgery from 10 years ago is painfully resurfacing. But Chinn lives her life the best and only way she knows how.

At 85 years old, Chinn isn't ready to stop volunteering. Helping others is her passion. It would have to be. Her failing eye sight over the years has taken away other hobbies - but it's not in her character to complain. She would rather take action.

Every Friday, Chinn can be seen spooning out hot meals at Hope's Kitchen at First United Methodist Church. Monday, Wednesday and Saturday she is bagging up items at the Methodist Thrift Store. The most important thing to Chinn is volunteering. After all, Chinn helped start Hope's Kitchen.

Eleven years ago, Chinn and then minister Lynn Evans decided the state-of-the-art kitchen, built with donations from church members, needed to be put to better use. Chinn and Evans knew they wanted to feed the community. How to accomplish that was the bigger question?

"Right away City Market gave us donations," Chinn says. "We only had $2 to start out with and some anonymous person came in and gave us $5,000. Then we were on our way."

Now, City Market, Walmart and Safeway all donate goods every week to Hope's Kitchen. On occasion students from Dolores and Cortez schools, and local Girl Scout troops hold food and fundraising drives for the kitchen. And when the food is low, church members are the first to bring in donations.

The kitchen can serve up to 100 meals on their open days, so the community support is helpful. From noon to 1 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Hope's Kitchen is a welcome spot for those in need. There are different crews of volunteers each day. Trudy Sagg, Larry Gessner and Libby York are the designated cooks.

"We don't just feed the homeless," Chinn explains. "We serve anyone who needs a hot meal because maybe they are just down on their luck. We don't question anyone, we feed whoever comes to our door."

Chinn just wants to help. When she and her husband moved to Cortez from Dallas 22 years ago, she immediately signed on at Vista Grande nursing home as a volunteer. In the mornings she spent her time at a head start center. Day after day she helped round up young children before heading to the nursing home.

When the head start center needed someone to drive the kids around, even though her eye-sight was OK at the time, she decided driving a bus wouldn't be a good idea for her condition. They needed full-time help at Vista Grande, so Chinn devoted her time to the nursing home. She eventually took on the position of activities director where she stayed for 10 years.

"I wouldn't have left that job at all if I hadn't lost my sight," Chinn says. "I loved it so much."

Nine years ago, she was diagnosed with macular degeneration. Her retina was slowly deteriorating. Within a year she could no longer drive. Shortly after, she retired from Vista Grande. She was diagnosed as legally blind three years ago and now has glaucoma in both eyes. Chinn, however, does not sit at home and fret.

"My biggest problem is that I can't drive anymore," she says with a laugh. "But I am lucky to have such wonderful friends who take me where I need to go."

She carries on - holding onto the one thing she does best. Serving others.

Dividing up her time at the kitchen and the store is easy. The Methodist Thrift Store was also one of the first places she volunteered at. She continued working there even after she lost her sight because her presence is expected.

The joke at the store is: Chinn is the bag lady. She can't see to work as a cashier so she bags. There, she is able to work at a slower pace while she visits with friends and customers.

Hope's Kitchen on the other hand is quite busy and fast-paced. Chinn works on Fridays, helping to set up and serve.

"I can see enough to do certain tasks," she says. "I still have some of my peripheral vision but the central vision is gone."

Chinn lives alone and she gets along by herself. She prefers to keep moving. She sees no point in sitting at home thinking about the pain her body may be feeling that day. So she keeps herself busy.

"I can still work. If I had to sit at home I'd go crazy."

When she is at home, she focuses on the kitchen. As the volunteer coordinator, Chinn calls volunteers and pencils in the days and hours they will be working. The calendar she produces is done with a telesensory magnifier. When she's finished, it goes to the church. If someone can't make their shift, they call Chinn and she finds a replacement. In some instances, she fills in herself.

But the community is responsible and willing. The church has plenty of volunteers.

"Everyone is friendly and accepting. That has been my experience," Chinn says. "There may be some people who are resentful towards the homeless. I don't know any of them. Maybe they would feel different if they were in their place."

Chinn is one person who does feel different. She sees the good in people. She sees their hopelessness. She sees their gratefulness.

Even without sight, Chinn sees all of that.