Joan Donner: Eleven Who Care winner

9:14 AM, Jan 25, 2012   |    comments
Eleven Who Care winner: Joan Donner
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MORA, Minn. -- There is one main face of volunteering in central Minnesota's Kanabec County. It is Joan Donner, 53, of Mora. She has been in charge of the Mora Food Shelf for the last decade.

"Anybody who wants to do some volunteering in this community, the first thing you would know is you would find Joan Donner," said food shelf volunteer Mary Brelie. "She would be able to put you in touch with people at the food shelf or people in our F.I.S.H. Program or Toys for Kids or I mean she's kind of at the foundation of everything that goes on."

Volunteer Connie Nelson's assessment is even more direct. "When I first met her and her friend, Julie, they are both doctors' wives, I said, 'I always thought doctors' wives just stayed home and did their nails, but really, she works very hard, very caring for everyone."

By her own admission, Joan Donner grew up without a lot of money, but her family impressed her with the determination to help others less fortunate. "My Mom, my stepfather, my Dad, showing (me) that doing things for other people is important."

Joan has a highly developed sense of empathy. "Everybody's situation is a little bit different. You see people who have learned to cope and so they have figured it out. They are on some kind of fixed income, so they are going to be in that situation for awhile. It is not forever. And then, there are the people who, their whole life has been turned upside down. This is something totally different for them and that is harder because they do not want to be here. It is embarrassing, but you also hear, 'I am just glad you are here and I plan to give back when I can' or 'We used to donate to the food shelf and now we have to be here', kind of thing."

The usual assumption is that the economic downturn has been problematic for food shelf volunteers. Not in Mora, according to Joan Donner. "When I first took over the food shelf, we were probably seeing 30 families a month. Now, it is 325. The other part that has changed, which is really interesting is, the tighter the economy got, the more people donated to the food shelf. So, we probably are better off right now, financially, than we've ever been."

Joan Donner believes she is "better off" as well. "I've been lucky, because I have gotten to use my time to do the things that I thought were important to do. I volunteered in 20 billion different things over the years and then finally you start going 'okay, these are the things that a little bit more important to me and this is how I am going to spend my time'. "

For Joan Donner, her food shelf work has become personal. "You know that this is a small community, small town, so, you are seeing you neighbors and my kids' classmates, that kind of thing. I is not really that hard to have some empathy for people you know.

"You can imagine yourself being there. I guess not everybody, but you are one accident. You are one job away from being there. So, it is not really that big of a leap anymore to think, yeah, it could be you."

(Copyright 2011 by KARE. All Rights Reserved.)

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