Denise Butvin


After retiring in 1995, Denise Butvin found she had a lot of time on her hands. Going from a busy schedule as a pharmacy tech at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital, she realized she needed to find something else to fill her days.

Landing on volunteering, Butvin gives a hand to various community organizations like the Cleveland Chesed Center, the Kosher Food Pantry and the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. During her days at each facility, she found herself helping wherever she was needed – whether that was making staple food boxes for Passover or separate clothing at the Chesed Center; helping with the mobile food pantry at the Kosher Food Pantry; or the Cleveland Food Bank’s health center, sending out helpful information about Medicare and Medicaid to the community.

While all of this was done before the pandemic, she also remains involved with the Cleveland Food Bank virtually, helping coordinate the weekly pickup event held at the downtown Muni Lot. Additionally, Butvin finds time to make a difference on her terms by shopping at her local CVS once a week and donating her purchases to area women’s shelters.

“This is my way of giving back that way too,” she said. “Every little thing I can do, I try to do it. I’m sure it is never enough, but it is enough to feel satisfied that I’m doing my part.”

CJN: Why did you decide volunteering was what you wanted to do in your retirement?

Butvin: Almost a year ago, I had a kidney transplant. For years, I took stress tests to make sure I was still healthy enough to get a kidney. The technician was surprised I didn’t have a donor lined up, and she offered to give me her kidney. The next day, I sent her all of the paperwork you had to fill out and she did it. By June 2019, she found out she was a match for me. She was on vacation and University Hospitals called her, and by December 2019, we had our transplant. I was blessed with a miracle, and we do keep in touch.

I’ve just been through a lot medically, and I originally retired because I was diagnosed with breast cancer and couldn’t do much. So, I was sitting around doing nothing and knew I couldn’t give money but I could give my time. My time is precious, and I have it. And that is why I started giving back and never turned back.

I had the time and still have the time. My sister complains that I volunteer too much and that I have to slow down and I always say no. I don’t want to slow down. If I can’t help in one way, I can certainly help in another.

CJN: What do you like most about volunteering?

Butvin: The interaction with people. I love that. Some people aren’t so nice and that is fine. When I do my food distributions, we have 500 people come through the line and they can get cranky all they want. I know they don’t want to be there and are most times embarrassed about needing help. I always say, “have a lovely day,” or “have a blessed one,” but it is just seeing all that is needed out there. That is my way of socializing with people and hopefully making them feel better within those two minutes in front of me. That is what makes my day.

CJN: Is giving back to your community something you learned from a young age?

Butvin: My parents were very involved in our temple and they would, of course, bring us as kids and we got involved then too. It just instilled me from childhood that giving back is important for those in need. That is where I learned to help out when I can. In high school, I was involved in a program through Hillcrest Hospital in foodservice and was feeding people, and that was how I got to my career.

I was always in some type of social interaction with people and that has transitioned with me for my whole life. I would put others before myself always –that is just how I am. It’s hard getting used to putting myself first now, I don’t know how to do that.

CJN: Do you find yourself using any of your career skills when volunteering?

Butvin: My skills and career were great – but not really. Hospital pharmaceutical work doesn’t have the same interaction as my food-related volunteering. I used to work nights at the hospital, and I didn’t have much human interaction because people were sleeping. But me helping people at the hospital turned me on to helping people in new and different ways. Knowing the work I did in my career helped people get better, get released and live their life – it informs me now, knowing the organizations I work for can also help provide (for people).

CJN: Do you feel like you’re making an impact?

Butvin: I’m hoping that I’m making someone’s day and that they’ll pass it on to someone else. I know I am making an impact by being able to give them what they need as far as mental support within those few minutes, and knowing the centers I’m working or are impacting them and getting them the food they need.

While the pandemic continues, the number one thing on Butvin’s mind is staying healthy so she can continue to interact with others.

“Staying healthy is important to me,” she said. “I want to get back to interacting with people face-to-face. My exercise class is in-person and we wear masks and social distance, and the social aspect makes a difference to me to be able to talk to people. I love going to class now because of the people. By talking to other people, you get ideas and learn from them.”

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