PFLUGERVILLE, Texas — Some people see cooking as a chore, but one Pflugerville man sees it as a way to give back.
"Everyone needs a Jeff, but he's ours. We're not sharing," said Julie Ballesteros, executive director at Manos de Cristo.
You can always count on Jeff Rutkowski.
"They just tell me the date and I just put it on my calendar," he said.
The two met nine years ago.
"We just had like an instant friendship and he's been helping us ever since," Ballesteros said.
"I was asked to come to a golf tournament and cook tortillas for them one year and the following year, the man that brought me in for that, he said, 'Could you do the whole lunch?'" Rutkowski said.
The meal was a hit and so, year after year, Rutkowski kept coming back. He was cooking meals for all of the Manos de Cristo fundraisers.
The nonprofit serves 30,000 people each year through all of its programs. Raising money is essential.
"Our largest program is our dental program, where we serve emergency dental work and patients every day. Then we have education classes where we provide ESL [English as a second language] classes, computer literacy classes and Spanish literacy classes," Ballesteros said.
"I believe that everybody has to help their community somehow and Manos de Cristo is a great organization, and we just love doing it," Rutkowski said.
No matter the fundraiser, Rutkowski donates the food and his time – and he brings in his friends to help.
"One person by themselves, you know, you can't make a really big impact. But if you link on to a group like Manos, it's just easy to really feel fulfilled," he said.
Rutkowski said it's a joy to be able to help. He took up cooking alongside his wife, Pamela, who sadly passed away recently. But he continues to carry on the tradition.
"The cooking was actually more, after a while, more my passion because I really got into it. But she always allowed me to have that passion," Rutkowski said.
KVUE and Charles Maund Toyota rewarded Rutkowski with $1,000 for paying it forward. He was pretty dumbfounded when we gave him the news.
"You seem kind of shocked. What are you feeling?" KVUE's Yvonne Nava asked him.
"I am very shocked because I've always been the type of person to be the giver [rather] than to be the receiver," Rutkowski said.
Humility aside, Rutkowski's kindness doesn't go unnoticed.
"To know Jeff is to love him," Ballesteros said.
Rutkowski's other passion is irrigation. He has his own company and has been in irrigation for the last 40 years.
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