Terry Moehnke and Paula Sorenson, both of Fort Dodge, were each honored in June with a Governor’s Volunteer Award.
The award recognizes at the state level volunteers for nonprofits, charities and government organizations across Iowa with a ceremony and certificate.
Moehnke, nominated by the Fort Dodge Correctional Facility, was honored for creating the Backpack Buddies program.
“It’s a recognition of the work that I do as a community service,” Moehnke said. “I don’t look for anything like an award. It’s just a nice outfall of what’s happened over the last few years with the backpack program.”
Since 2010, Backpack Buddies has provided food on weekends to students receiving free or reduced lunch. The inspiration to start the program came from his sister, an elementary school principal in Sioux Falls, S.D.
“She told me about this program, and I approached the school system to find out if there was a need for this type of program. And it was somewhat startling to find out the numbers associated with the free and reduced meals here in town,” he said. “About 60 percent of our children are receiving free and reduced meals, and that’s the guideline we use for determining the need for a program.”
Moehnke said he wishes the program was not needed.
“It bothers me, the fact that we need a program like this. But we’re satisfying a need,” he said. “In the last year, we did about 425 bags a week. Before that, about 500 bags. So we’re distributing about 20,000 bags a year of food.”
He added, “It makes me feel like we’ve accomplished something. On the other hand, I wish we didn’t have to do it.”
Sorenson, nominated by the Fort Dodge Community Foundation and United Way, has been a volunteer with that organization since 2012, assisting with its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and Bridging the Gap programs.
In the past year alone, Sorenson has provided more than 1,000 hours of service.
“I started off in the office primarily making photo copies, stuffing envelopes,” she said. “My tasks just expand every day. I help out with any project that needs an extra set of hands or set of eyes, so the rest of the team here in the office can focus on their primary job duties.”
Receiving the honor, Sorenson said, was a kind validation of her efforts.
“It’s a great recognition. It’s nice to receive the nomination,” she said. “It’s just the way I was recognized and told thank you for everything you do.”
Sorenson said it is worthwhile to help others, and be involved in the community.
“It’s the empowerment you get internally from bringing assistance to someone in need,” she said. “It’s a very heart-warming feeling.”