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Empty Stocking Fund: Volunteer says he's 'blessed' to help people at ESM

By: Jesse Byrnes Special to The Gazette
November 29, 2013 Updated: November 29, 2013 at 9:41 pm
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This is one of a series of stories about the nonprofit agencies that receive money from The Gazette/El Pomar Foundation Empty Stocking campaign that runs through the holidays.

When he retired, John Kieft's dad told him to give back. Now he helps people finds jobs and processes hundreds of tax returns a year for needy families.

"Sometimes just the looks on the faces - it's sorta neat to see that," said Kieft, a retired Air Forceofficer who has volunteered at Ecumenical Social Ministries for 12 years.

ESM works to keep families from homelessness and joblessness, and helps meet their basic needs including paying for prescription medications and medical needs and rent payments, among other services.

"A lot of the people we help at ESM get by paycheck to paycheck or on Social Security," said Kieft, who earlier that day had helped served the homeless at a downtown kitchen.

For most of the year, Kieft volunteers a few times a week helping others find work. Whether single mothers, recently unemployed married men or some other situation, he walks them through online databases to find retail and customer service jobs or yardwork, for example.

Some of those without a high school diploma who are served through ESM have received their General Education Degree. "I always shake their hands," Kieft said. Others approach him: "'Hey, I got a job, remember me?'"

During tax season, Kieft volunteers in the ministries' Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. Last year he processed 300 tax returns for those in need.

"Some of them were shocked," he remembered, noting that many who try to file themselves do not take advantage of the deductions, which can add up to a few thousand dollars.

"(For) some of them it makes a total difference in their life," Kieft said. Still, he added, "I am the one that is blessed."

Asked if Kieft has any idea how many individuals he's helped give back to over the years: "There's a lot of people that know my name."

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