How will you answer the call? Print
Fonder Ponders
Thursday, Jun. 18, 2015 -- 12:00 AM

Fonder Ponders column by Jackson Fonder

About five years ago, I left a wonderful job in corporate America to join the nonprofit sector and have not looked back.

I can't tell you exactly what it was that compelled me to make such a drastic move. Over the years I had worked with many nonprofits, mostly as a volunteer, and loved the work and people involved. It just felt like it was the right thing to do. Almost like it was a calling.

Answering the call

I had an opportunity to talk to some other people who felt something similar when I visited one of our rural mobile food pantries held at St. John Vianney Parish in Janesville recently. So many of the volunteers who organize this monthly event told me that they felt like this "was their ministry." Others shared with me that they just felt "called to do this."

Barbara and Jan are two friends who were coming out of church one day and noticed an announcement about the food pantry. One looked at the other and said, "If you do it, then I’ll do it too." They’ve been volunteering for about a year now.

Julie is also a volunteer. She is in charge of registration and hasn't missed a pantry in the six years that it's been open! I bombarded her and Kathryn (another volunteer) with questions about the who, what, where, and why of organizing a food pantry.

She eagerly shared her stories with me. I mentioned that I noticed people with canes, walkers, oxygen tanks, and people who just seemed to struggle getting across the parking lot. She said, "We’re concerned about that. We're seeing a trend that many of our clients are single, disabled, elderly women."

Personal relationships

I was fascinated by the love and care in her voice. The relationships between volunteers and clients were very personal. I heard people calling each other by first names, asking about family members, and carrying on like they were neighbors. Come to find out, many of them are neighbors.

Near the end of my visit, as volunteers were sharing their favorite stories about the pantry, one of the other volunteers handed them an envelope which contained a thank you card, which was read out loud. It said:

"To the Volunteers at the Food Pantry – I need to thank you for all your efforts and selflessness that you do here. I have battled cancer for over a year and there were times when I couldn't make it to pick up some food because of the cancer. You allowed my friends to pick up food for me even when I couldn't get out of the house. That meant so much to me! Every little bit helps! Thank you and God bless you All!"

All of us looked up and made eye contact at the same time. One of them said, "See, I told you — we’re just answering the call."

Jackson Fonder is president and CEO of Catholic Charities Madison. Catholic Charities helps nearly 30,000 people in need in the 11 counties of the Diocese of Madison. Visit for more information on the 11 Parish Mobile Food Pantries held in partnership with Second Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin and the many other services for families and children.