Crestina Marez has received the Maxine Strom Volunteer of the Year award for her 15 years of service at a Tacoma, Washington food bank, serving the homeless and families in need. The team at My Sister’s Pantry honored Marez at its annual dinner. “I was completely caught off-guard by this,” said Marez. “I expected this award to be given to somebody else.”
What makes the award special for Marez is the fact that she has known 90 year old Maxine Strom, after whom the award is named, for almost 30 years. “My privilege is being able to learn from Maxine,” said Marez. The two volunteer side by side serving people hot meals three times a week, making sure they have clothing or baby supplies. “This is an awesome program that’s grown tremendously,” said Marez. “We serve people from a number of backgrounds, including Russian and Ukrainian immigrants, seniors, and Native Americans in the Tacoma community.”
Marez, herself Native American, comes to volunteer work naturally. After working as a Nurse’s Aide for 32 years, a freak accident happened in 2002. A transit bus hit Marez in downtown Tacoma, and Marez lost her left leg. She recovered and hasn’t let that injury slow her down.
In 2005, Marez completed her Bachelor’s degree in Urban Leadership and Sustainability from Evergreen College. One of her mentor’s at Evergreen recommended she attend Brandman University for her Master’s degree. Instead, she tried a year at University of Washington Tacoma, and found it wasn’t what she needed. After attending a college fair, she applied at Brandman, which she says “turned out to be a great fit.” Marez earned her Master’s in Organizational Leadership at the campus on Joint Base Lewis McChord in February 2012. “I found Brandman professors to be fair and challenging,” she said. “The students had to challenge themselves and look at people’s experience through a different lens.”
Marez is now using her experience and education to help other amputees. She started the Tacoma Amputee Support Group seven years ago. “I wanted to be heard,” said Marez. “Amputees need someone who has a voice.” Marez partners with military veterans who have lost a limb, and she works with those who are about to become an amputee, or who have recently lost an arm or leg. “I tell them ‘here’s what I did, and it might help you,’” said Marez. “I encourage them to find support and become a member of a local church in addition to receiving support from their family. I tell them they can do whatever they want to do.”
Marez is now building the Tacoma Amputee Support Group, by recruiting an Advisory Board and formalizing her efforts. Part of her dream is to establish a classroom for amputees that allows them access to computers so they can job hunt, take classes or find a way to volunteer themselves. Marez says she was inspired as a child by the words of President John F. Kennedy who told Americans, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.” As a leader and noted volunteer, her goal is simple: “I put myself anywhere in the country where I can help.”