‘I do all I can to give back’

Russ Kamradt: A life spent serving the needs of others

By Kylie Cordell For Clay Today
Posted 12/21/22

MIDDLEBURG – Russ Kamradt's passion for serving others, following the teachings of Jesus Christ by helping those less fortunate, was ignited during the darkest moments of his life.

"I was a very …

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‘I do all I can to give back’

Russ Kamradt: A life spent serving the needs of others

Posted

MIDDLEBURG – Russ Kamradt's passion for serving others, following the teachings of Jesus Christ by helping those less fortunate, was ignited during the darkest moments of his life.

"I was a very depressed child. My family was forced out of our home shortly after my youngest brother died. My parents, along with us five children, had no place to live, so my grandfather gave up his basement below his two-story apartment for us to live," he said.

It was an old building with nothing but a cold cement dwelling, said Kamradt. "No bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, or anything. Just a furnace, wash tubs, and clothesline with an old washer and a hose to shower with."

During those cold winter months, his grandfather gave him a Bible. When he flipped through the pages, he found a single underlined verse: "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God (Hebrews 13:16.)"

The following day, as Kamradt was walking from his grandfather's house, he saw his first chance to live up to God's teaching.

"A young mother was struggling to carry a baby and large bags of food, so I offered to carry them. She told me my mother must be proud of me and said, ‘May God bless you.’ I felt like my heart was going to explode that day, and I didn't want that feeling ever to leave me," he said.

Guided by his unwavering faith, Kamradt held onto those words that would later define his life.

Kamradt has since endeared himself to many organizations, including the Red Cross, for which work he received the Reinhold Special Volunteer of the year award. Years later, he won The President's Lifetime Achievement Award from the White House. He also received both the Life Time Achievement and the Faith-Based Golden Years awards.

Since retirement, Kamradt has served on several executive boards for major nonprofit organizations and received numerous awards locally, nationally and internationally for his volunteer work. He also was recognized by Oprah as one of her favorite volunteers.

"Along with the Red Cross, I joined the Salvation Army on their advisory council and have been active in their disaster activities, Angel Tree, bell ringing, backpack giveaway, Toys for Tots, and started the Hub distribution for Clay County food pantries through Feeding Northeast Florida," he said.

The pantry provides Clay County residents with fresh meats, produce and other commodities.

"We deliver twice weekly, and all the food comes from Feeding Northeast Florida," he said.

Besides the food pantry, Kamradt also formed Soles for Tots and recently asked The Salvation Army to partner with the Marines on the project. The program has collected more than 40,000 pairs of new or used shoes since it started in 2008.

Kamradt is also a frequent blood donor. "I was giving blood for years. Then I started giving bone marrow, and they called me and said, after so many years, you've got a match. But before you can save this woman's life, we have to check your platelets. Well, I got a number, and I called, and they said that the donation wasn't necessary anymore. We both knew what had happened," he said. "If I'd donated sooner, then maybe she would still be here."

Kamradt continues to donate to honor her memory, hoping to reach that special someone.

"Years later, a little kid stops and hands me something. He said it was a cookie he made himself, so I said that's nice, what for? And his mom says that I saved his life. He had leukemia, and my bone marrow saved him. So I took his cookie. It was awful, but I told him it was the best cookie I ever had," he said, laughing. "Of course, it's also part of my faith calling, I think. We all have our different passions. Christ gave us all the Holy Spirit; when we're saved, the Holy Spirit comes alive in us. And once that came alive for it, man, it has helped direct me.”

Volunteering not only has helped others but also saved his life.

"I was going to give blood, and I saw that the hospital needed a volunteer at my age to do some tests that could help prevent prostate cancer, so I signed up. I went through some testing first, and the physician found I had an unusual growth in an unusual place. I went to see my doctor, and he sent me to a specialist, and they did some more tests. They did a biopsy," he said.

Kamradt learned that he had the early stages of prostate cancer.

"I was treated, and after I was cleared, my doctor came up to me and asked me to do some work for the National Cancer Society, and before I knew it, I was the chairman for Relay For life."

He also worked as their logistics manager in many areas.

"Besides helping save others, volunteering saved my life. Now I do all I can to give back," he said.

To get involved, don't hesitate to contact your local Salvation Army to see what opportunities are available. If you're searching for places to volunteer, the North Florida Red Cross has many opportunities, including Disaster Response, Blood Drives, Blood Transportation and more.

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