Despite setback, Newton man determined to help others at ECCCM

Staff Writer

Speak to any volunteer at Easter Catawba Cooperative Christian Ministry and you will likely hear the name Bruce Deese mentioned. Though ECCCM has many volunteers from across the county, Deese stands out. He is one of the most committed, passionate volunteers at ECCCM and he is also bound to a wheelchair.
Deese grew up in the area, moving in 1968 and staying ever since. He previously worked for a local wine distributor until his accident. Five years ago, a mountain bike accident broke his neck and back and left him paralyzed from the chest down. He is T5 paraplegic and is wheelchair bound.
It took about two years for Deese to regain his strength and become more independent. This coincided with his first visit to ECCCM. He first volunteered with his church, First Presbyterian in Newton, when they were scheduled for a workday.
On his first afternoon of volunteering, he still had some reservations, especially concerning his wheelchair.
“I was really reluctant to come in the first place because I didn’t know if I was going to be able to do anything or fit in,” he recalled.
Fortunately, not only was Deese able to help out, but he also felt that he was making a significant contribution. Since that day, he now volunteers three or four times a week.
Deese says that his volunteer duties vary from day-to-day. Typically, Tuesdays are known as "egg day", when local grocery stores send in shipments of eggs. Deese has the special duty of inspecting the eggs, looking for hairline fractures or blood. He's usually able to salvage 40 percent of what comes in or about 122 dozen eggs that can be given out.
Deese also says that "you never know what you're going to receive." On this particular Tuesday, they did not receive any shipments of eggs. Instead, the pantry was stocked with a recent shipment of produce, filling the air with the smell of bananas. He says that produce has to be turned over quickly, especially with a lack of cold storage.
On Tuesday, he was in the middle of stocking groceries, or what he refers to as “sorting food.” He had a large box of various canned foods on his lap, which he sorted onto neatly labeled shelves as he rolled through the pantry aisles. He demonstrated how he chooses which cans to stock. A particular can of corn with a dirty, damaged top does not pass his inspection. His general rule when stocking? “If I don’t think I would eat it, I’m not going to give it out.
One of his favorite aspects of volunteering at ECCCM is the community of volunteers.
“There’s a great atmosphere around here. People from all congregations come out here and we all blend in together. Even with the differences we have, we all can participate,” Deese says.
He states that his “heart has always been in serving others” and that, with his work at ECCCM, he feels that he is contributing something real.
Deese still faces challenges navigating life in a wheelchair.
“You have good days and bad days,” he says.
Muscle spasms in his legs and rainy days are typical impediments, though a recent flat tire in his wheelchair proved a unique and difficult obstacle.
Despite these challenges, Deese is surrounded by a strong network of support.
“I’ve got the best wife in the world. She really supports me,” Deese says.
He also finds support in his fellow volunteers. He says that the experience at ECCCM is a good one and that “there’s nothing but smiles here.”
His community of volunteers easily recognizes Deese's commitment to serving. Earlier this year, he was awarded the Charlie Bunn Service Award by ECCCM. The award is given to a volunteer who possesses a strong work ethic and demonstrates a passion for ECCCM, among other commendable qualities. Deese is humble about receiving the award. "It's unfortunate that the award goes to only one person because there are so many people that deserve it."
Returning to the pantry, Deese notes that though the shelves around the pantry are full, in a week they will be in need of replenishing. "It's staggering how much goes out the door here. I had no clue there was that much need in this community," Deese says. And over the two years that he has been volunteering, he has seen the need in the area continue to increase. His call to action to the community is this; "I encourage everyone to volunteer. At least once, to see the need." Hopefully, like Deese, others can feel like they are contributing something real.