Co-workers describe Sam Petersen as forever cheerful as he helps families take groceries from the Spokane Valley Food Bank.
Although Petersen has some mental and physical disabilities, he has volunteered at the food bank for more than nine years and is a favorite of other volunteers, who describe how much Petersen lifts everyone’s spirits. They say he always brings a positive attitude when helping distribute food to people in need.
Now, others have taken notice of Petersen’s volunteerism. The Arc of Spokane recently presented the 44-year-old with the Self-Advocate of the Year award.
It is given annually to a person with a developmental disability who contributes to bettering the lives of others with developmental disabilities or who has made notable progress in his or her own life toward greater independence.
“I think he just showed up one day and said, ‘Can I help?’ ” food bank director Barbara Bennett said of Petersen. “He’s been a delight ever since. He’s just always cheerful. He keeps all of our spirits up.”
When asked what he enjoys most about volunteering at the food bank, Petersen said, “Meeting all the friendly people.”
When given his award, he was smiling ear to ear, Petersen said. “It was my first award. I was surprised.”
Bennett, who nominated Petersen, said he walks from his home to the food bank on Broadway Avenue each Wednesday, arriving by 9 a.m. and staying until the last family is served after 4 p.m.
Over the years, Petersen has acquired confidence and grown in his abilities, she said.
“He is mostly outdoors in all weather conditions and never complains,” Bennett said in the nomination letter to Arc. “His attitude keeps both the volunteers and the clients in a good mood.
“Recently, his diabetes has been more of an issue, and everyone is concerned and helps him monitor his condition,” Bennett wrote.
Last week, Petersen was showing off his new tennis shoes, which another food bank volunteer had gotten for him because his old pair was worn.
“On the very few days he’s ever been absent, everyone asks for ‘Sammy,’ ” said Bennett.