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Monday, 23 December 2013 11:30

Longtime ECHO volunteer shares the joy of making life better for others

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Tom Fernan has been volunteering with ECHO for about 30 years. He’s often called on to organize volunteers and equipment for various tasks around the Janesville nonprofit organization. Tom Fernan has been volunteering with ECHO for about 30 years. He’s often called on to organize volunteers and equipment for various tasks around the Janesville nonprofit organization. Terry Mayer

 

JANESVILLE MESSENGER  -- At 82, Tom Fernan might be slowing down a little bit, but he won’t stop helping others. It’s just what he does -- and has done at ECHO in Janesville -- for about 30 years.

ECHO provides food and other services to low-income residents.

These days, Fernan picks up items that have been donated for ECHO’s food pantry, organizes volunteers and helps with other tasks that might need to be done.

“Anytime they need any work to be done, I get people to help,” Fernan said. “Marge (Sell, resource coordinator for ECHO) will call, and I will say, ‘How many people do you need?’ and then I get them to volunteer … Some projects take a lot of time and others don’t.

“Whenever they need help, I’m here.” Read the current edition here: http://www.server-jbmultimedia.net/CSI-JanesvilleMessengerSunday

Fernan said he enjoys working with the other volunteers and has developed many friendships over the years.

“They’re great people. As Christians, one of our main responsibilities is to make sure people have food to eat and clothes to wear, and this gives them the opportunity to do that,” Fernan said. “Everyone that volunteers is a really good person, and they’re concerned about other people.”

It makes him happy to see that people are reaching out to help others, such as a recent donation of five truckloads of food by area Boy Scouts to ECHO’s food pantry.

“You can only imagine how many items there were,” Fernan said. “It was great.”

Besides ECHO, Fernan has volunteered for the Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts and Explorers. He also volunteers at St. Patrick Catholic Church and for several youth organizations. In addition, he has helped during sporting events at Parker High School.

“In the play ‘Oklahoma!,’ the woman says, ‘I can’t say no,’ and that’s the way I am. I can’t say no,” Fernan said. “All my life, I’ve been involved. It’s a good feeling.”

That good feeling is mutual for ECHO, where Fernan is great to work with, said Marge Sell, ECHO resource coordinator.

“He has just been incredible. He goes to St. Patrick’s Church, and he always brings in their donations once a week,” Sell said.

“He’s just been a great guy to work with. ... he’s dependable, and he knows guys with trucks,” she said with a laugh.

Sometimes Fernan gets other family members involved in order to get a job done.

“I would say my son, Steve, comes down when something needs lifting,” Fernan said. “My two grandsons, when we did the food drive at the fairgrounds, they would come up and help. My son, with anything I need, he would be here in minutes.”

“When you’re 82, the arthritis catches up to you,” Fernan said. “I’ve slowed down a little bit, but there always seems to be something to do.”

Fernan previously worked in the accounting department at General Motors for 31 years. He said volunteering has allowed him to remain active throughout his retirement.

“I was in salary payroll, and (General Motors) consolidated everything to the central office, so they said, ‘Do you want to take an early retirement?,’ and I said yeah..,” Fernan said. “It was a perfect thing. I thought there was a need in the community, and I had an early retirement, and I wanted to keep busy, too.”

Fernan said sometimes it’s easy to find volunteers, especially during the holiday season, so it’s an opportunity to let others enjoy the benefits of volunteering.

“When we had the Thanksgiving dinner, I think we had 300 people that volunteered,” Fernan said. “At the Christmas dinner, a lot of people want their kids to be involved, so over the years I’ve kind of gotten out of that because they have so many volunteers.”

But as Sell will point out, there’s always people who need help through ECHO, so there’s always a need for volunteers.

“Especially in the mornings when we pack our food orders, because we’re usually packing 40 meals each morning, and it gets pretty hectic,” Sell said. “There’s other projects that we always need volunteers for, too.”

Donations to ECHO have  increased the past few years, but there are also more clients using those services, Sell said. Besides food, ECHO offers housing services, transportation services, household supplies and counseling services to residents in need.

So far this year, ECHO has provided more than a million pounds of groceries to residents, provided 4,000 shelter stays, provided more than 500 families with transportation and offered more than 10,000 hours of counseling and case management services.

“The need is up so much, so no matter what we get in, it seems to go out that much faster,” Sell said.

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