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South Side Seniors Benefit From Charlie's 'Free Time'

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Mark Nootbaar
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90.5 WESA

About 80 percent of the work done at Pittsburgh’s senior center on the South Side is done by volunteers. And lately, much of it has been done by one man: Charlie Mathews.

“To have Charlie here as a person that is just willing to help and is really good with people is very crucial to what we do,” said Sarah Johnston, director of the South Side Market House.

Mathews found himself out of a job and without permanent housing about seven years ago when someone told him to go to the Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community “table” to get a meal. When he got there, he found they needed help serving, so he volunteered. 

“The ‘table’ was only Tuesday and Thursday nights, which left Monday, Wednesday and Friday with nothing to do,” Mathews said.

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Credit Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 FM
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90.5 FM
Charlie Mathews spends 30-40 hours a week volunteering at the South Side Market House.

After Mathews found out that the senior center down the street could also use some help, he began volunteering there too. Now, he comes in nearly every day the center is open.

Mathews spends most of his time helping to set up, serve and clean up lunch. He also helps the seniors with the center’s computers. But, according to Johnston, he is willing to do just about anything. For a while, that included filling in as janitor.

But he also just spends time with the seniors, getting to know them and keeping an eye on them. 

“It’s like a big family here,” Mathews said.

Johnston said most volunteers only stick around for a few weeks, or they only volunteer one day a week. Then, only for an hour or two. Mathews is different. That consistency has allowed him to gain the trust of the seniors.

“They’ve become more comfortable talking with Charlie or asking him questions than they have with me or some of my staff people. Which is great, because it is a way for me to figure out what people need,” Johnston said.

Mathews is looking for a job, but said he almost doesn’t want one. He fears he would miss the volunteer work.

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