Ula Lewis volunteers more than 60 hours per week to teach families and single people — young and senior — to save about 75 percent on their food and toiletries, says Andréa Wright, a Clinton mom of two young children.
“Ula also stocks up food in her and her husband Ron’s personal home pantry where they offer anyone to come over and help themselves for free food,” Wright said.
She and her volunteer coupon angels clip, sort, organize, date, and categorize coupons and have them at the Good Cheer Thrift Shop in Langley upstairs where anyone can come to take what they want and use them to save money, Wright added.
“I learned about this coupon club when my husband was laid off, and we found ourselves in financial trouble, trying to pay our mortgage and bills,” she said. “We felt we had to go sign up for food at the local food bank. This is not something we take lightly, as we feel better about ourselves giving rather than receiving.”
Then they saw a flyer about Lewis’s coupon workshop. After attending, they came home with the knowledge of how to save enough money to no longer need to go to the food bank.
“She also opened up her own personal pantry at her home, and offered us to take any food we wanted,” Wright said. “And if this isn’t enough, Ula also takes people to doctor appointments or cancer treatments. Ula helped us to keep our self-respect and self-worth. She taught us to help ourselves. We are doing odd jobs while we look for a full-time job, and are making do, thank you to Ula.”
Lewis began learning coupon clipping about six years ago when the economy went south and she and her husband were struggling financially. She started out focusing on just her husband and herself, but she saved so much money that they soon had every cupboard of their small single-wide mobile home stocked with food. In fact, they had so much they began inviting anyone in need to come and help themselves.
“The pantry stays full even though we keep giving it away,” she said.
Then Lewis got involved with the local food bank to help them save money in their purchase of food. And the coupon club began from there.
Lewis leads a South Whidbey coupon club at Good Cheer from noon to 4 p.m. every Wednesday. Sitting down with individuals and helping them plan their meals is enjoyable, she said. People are asked to prepare a pantry or grocery list of desired items, and then Lewis helps them locate the best deals on those products. Additionally, Lewis tries to teach those receiving food assistance how to double or even triple the value of food stamps.
Lewis uses her knowledge of store savings to help Langley’s Good Cheer Food Bank & Thrift Shops stock its shelves and get more for its money. For example, someone donated a $25 Safeway gift card to the food bank, and Lewis used it and coupons to purchase $134 worth of food from the store.
“We try to average 75 percent off retail prices,” Lewis said. “I want to help people to help themselves and do anything I can to help them feel their God-given self-worth. I think a lack of self-worth is a big problem in our world and the cause of much anger, depression, even stealing and harming others.”
Every human deserves basic needs — water, food, shelter — and to know they have value, she added.
“I can’t help the world, but I can help some in my community,” Lewis said.
A volunteer crew assists Lewis in putting together food coupons and organizing them for anyone who needs them. They can be picked up for free at the Good Cheer Thrift Shop upstairs. Every coupon — tens of thousands of them — are neatly organized and in color-coded bins, making them easy to find for those who want them. The volunteer coupon crew will even snail-mail them to those who can’t come in and pick them up in person.
Talking with Lewis and one of her volunteers, Lois Kleparek, while they busily cut out coupons, it’s easy to see this is a labor of love.
Kleparek says of Lewis, “Ula and her husband Ron live in a 12-foot by 64-foot single-wide trailer. They are not well off by any means, yet they help people whenever they can.” Ula has severe back problems, and it’s hard for her to get around, but this doesn’t stop her from volunteering, Kleparek said.
“Ula and Ron have food pantries throughout their home, including in their bedroom, where they invite anyone to come over and take whatever food they need,” she said. “Some days her back is so bad she is crawling to the food pantry to get a box of food for a needy family that haven’t transportation to come to her home.”
Lewis remarks, “The food that my husband and I have we are only stewards of. We don’t ‘own’ anything we have; it’s just here on loan for us to share and give away. That is the problem with ‘things’ — sometimes people think they own them.”
Lewis says she was a deep thinker as a child. She thought about life and her future often.
“When I was 14 years old, a speaker came into the school auditorium and told us his story of abusing alcohol,” she said. “He said he didn’t want any of us to take his path. He was a prominent lawyer with a home in Beverly Hills, loving wife and children, and lost it all and ended up living in the streets in a cardboard box. I took his testimony to heart, and decided right then I would never have a drink. I still never have even tasted alcohol.”
Lewis read the Bible often growing up, and credits her religion as a source of her strength and giving beliefs. If someone needs a hand, don’t expect someone else to do it, she said.
“I like to think of the song, ‘Little Purple Pansies:’ Just one more person to gladden,” Lewis said. “I think of that as there is always one more person to uplift. Our words and actions are powerful on others.”
Lewis said that lesson was made clear by a class her grandmother took while studying to be a nurse. The teacher told the group that together they would make the last person to class sick. When the unlucky student arrived, they all told the woman how flushed she looked and that she should see the nurse.
“By halfway through the class she was sick and even had a fever,” Lewis said. “Never underestimate how we affect others; let’s make it for good.”
Another full-time volunteer for coupons is Amy Hannold. She heads up the North End Coupon club, and works with Lewis’s South End group.
“Ula volunteers full time every week with the coupon club, also helping the Good Cheer Food Bank save over $150,000 a year,” Hannold said. “She is an inspiration and valuable community member. She provides not only coupons and savings to all that seek it, she also mentors, encourages, and teaches frequent classes freely. Ula and I know firsthand how tough families have it right now. We’ve seen our services become more in demand. The need has quadrupled for those seeking coupons. It’s going to take a community to keep our services going.”
“We’re more than coupons, we’re ‘teaching them to fish’ instead of just handing them what they need at the moment,” she said.
A bit more about this month’s Hometown Hero:
DATE OF BIRTH: Dec. 23, 1946, San Bernardino, Calif.
EDUCATION: Pacific High School, San Bernardino, Calif.; Scripps College, Claremont, Calif.
SPOUSE: Ronald Gill Lewis, married May 19, 1967.
CHILDREN: 11 — Heidi, Samuel, Lydia, Barry, Craig, Keith, Wade, Ginger, Janet, Amber and Mary.
GRANDCHILDREN: 34 grandchildren, one great-grandchild.
YEARS ON WHIDBEY: 29.
HOBBIES: reading, gardening, sewing, and couponing.
What would you like to change about this community?
— “To have a South Whidbey public pool for everyone to use at an affordable price.”
What would you like to change about yourself?
— “I would like to lose weight and be healthier.”
Your favorite book?
— “The Book of Mormon, it changed my life.”
Who would you like to apologize to?
— “My children. I thought discipline and rules were so important while they grew up. I have apologized to each one of my children.”
What is something that helps you in life?
— “Music; it’s always been a huge part of my life. I sang in traveling church choirs.”
Advice you received growing up?
— “My father told me stealing is stealing. Whether it is a stick of gum or a million dollars, it’s all the same.”
What book would you like to write?
— “A book for teens about a reluctant hero. My main character would not be able to do things for himself, as he keeps trying to quit smoking but can’t. But when it comes to someone else he always jumps up and does the right thing, even to the detriment to himself.”