WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) — Jim Kowalski estimates he has made over 10,000 hoagies during the past 10 years while volunteering with the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling.

A retired behavioral health counselor with a doctorate, Kowalski said he has learned much over the past decade while volunteering. That includes great recipes for chicken, zucchini and green beans, he said.

“It was something to help me with my free time, rather than just do other things,” he said. “I like food, and it’s one of the things I’ve always wanted to do.”

Kowalski has also volunteered with local hospitals and hospices, but he has always enjoyed the soup kitchen.

“I like working with the people, serving the people, talking with the people,” he said. “I like helping to prep the food….”

“There is always good food, and Maurice (Walker) the chef does a good job.”

Kowalski said he enjoys helping the needy and encourages others to volunteer at the soup kitchen.

“Come in and give it a shot,” Kowalski said. “Do it for a day and see how you like it.”

While some may think of a soup kitchen as a potentially sad and dark place, that is not the way he sees the Soup Kitchen of Greater Wheeling.

“I think it’s a place where people can come in and socialize,” he said. “They can sit down and have a hot meal.

“It’s like a community. After a while, you get to know the patrons by their first names. That’s kind of a neat thing, to talk to them and ask them how they are doing.”

He volunteers through the Retired and Senior Volunteer (RSVP) Program serving Brooke, Hancock, Ohio and Marshall counties.

“Those people there are very nice, very supportive – as is the staff here,” Kowalski said.

Volunteers get to eat at the Soup Kitchen prior to each shift, and Kowalski typically volunteers on Friday – but not for the next six months.

After the start of the year, Kowalski headed to Florida, where he is involved with a Meals On Wheels organization. He plans to be back in Wheeling by the end of June in time for the Soup Kitchen’s annual Independence Day barbeque celebration.

“It’s interesting, because you put the grill outside and the smoke goes up in the air and people see it, and they want to know what’s going on,” Kowalski said. “And the food here is great.”

Kelly Hunter, director of RSVP in Brooke, Hancock, Ohio and Marshall counties, said Kowalski is among many senior volunteers who are helping local organizations.

“He is such an uplifting person,” she said. “He is always a positive person, and he is always willing to go anywhere where he is needed.”

Hunter said she is amazed by the work Kowalski and other seniors put forth.

“I just took over last year, and it’s an eye opener as to what they do,” she said. “I never realized how important this volunteer support is to our communities.”

In addition to working at the soup kitchen in Wheeling, some are in Moundsville at the Grave Creek Mound Museum. They give tours at the museum and participate in gardening, she said.

Others take on jobs at Brooke Hills Park in Wellsburg.

RSVP’s main office is inside the Brooke Senior Center in Follansbee.

She noted the organization is always willing to increase its volunteerism.