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Norma Jean Wilder, founder and director of the Chiloquin Christian Center “Blessing Pot” program, was selected as the 2021 Klamath Country Volunteer of the Year.

Thirty-seven nominations were reviewed by a panel of local media members with Wilder receiving the highest score based on leadership, commitment, community impact and achievement.

“The individuals and organizations nominated were exceptional and we should all feel very proud that the Klamath spirit of volunteerism is alive and well throughout Klamath Country,” said Marla Edge, United Way volunteer center chairperson.

Wilder started the “Blessing Pot” program 12 years ago after retiring from owning and operating several restaurants. The Chiloquin Christian Center, equipped with a large kitchen and serving area, is where Norma Jean and her team of 21 volunteers cook and serve nearly 400 meals every Tuesday. The meals are either delivered to shut-in seniors and those in need throughout the Chiloquin area by volunteers, or a drive-through option is also available at the church.

Their work starts at 5:15 a.m. making fresh biscuits, cutting fresh vegetables and meat, and preparing Norma’s special soup recipes, including yankee pot roast, zuppa toscana, chicken and pierogi, among many others.

“I am honored to receive this award, and God has blessed me with dedicated volunteers and resources to serve the very best food to help my fellow neighbors in need,” Wilder said in a press release.

Before COVID-19, the church would open its doors and everyone would eat in the large dining room.

During the holidays — Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the annual Blessing Pot celebration — Wilder pulls out all stops to prepare festive meals. The “Blessing Pot” program receives donations of money, food and supplies from local citizens and businesses in order to operate. According to a release, Wilder selects and trains all her volunteers, makes sure the facility is in complete compliance with Klamath County regulations, and food handlers have all the necessary current Oregon certifications.

Nominated by volunteer Karen Gaston, she says, Norma has enormous patience, calm, warmth, humility, sense of humor, sense of service, and our community supports her “Blessing Pot” ministry whole heartedly.”

37 people nominated for award

Natalie Postles, KOTI-TV; Rob Siems, Basin Mediactive; Tim Trainor, Herald and News; and Bob Wynne, Wynne Broadcasting served as judges for the event this year.

“I want to give a special thanks to our judges and our financial sponsors (the KMSB Foundation and the Wendt Family Foundation) for helping make this important event possible,” said Edge.

The following individuals and organizations all received an award for their service to our community: Kaden Coulter (KU Student Body President); Isiah Derrick (Klamath Food Bank); Michael J. Fitzgerald (Sustainable Klamath); Sandra Flinn & Vonne Wilcox (Klamath Hospice Treasurer’s Thrift Store); Mike & Shelly Freirich (Brown Bags of Hope); Doug Garrett (Klamath Falls Gospel Mission); Betty Henderson (Free Will Church of Klamath Falls); Janine Henry & Cheyenne Windish (Citizens for Safe Schools);

Marc Kane (Kiwanis Club, SMART Reading); William Van Moorhem (Klamath Basin Outdoor Group); Lawrence Powers (OIT Shaw Historical Library); Russell Byron Shaffer (Klamath Basin Senior Citizens’ Center); Gayle Walther (Klamath & Lake County Council on Aging); and Bernie Wood (Klamath Loom Ladies).

Organizations honored included: Basin Presbyterian Church; Henley High School Teachers; Kiwanis Club of Klamath Falls; Klamath & Lake County Community Action Services; Klamath County Sheriff’s Office Mature Volunteer Program & Reserve Deputies; Malin Baptist Church; Malin Christian Center; Merrill Lion’s Club; Refuge Church; and The Salvation Army pantry volunteers.

Finalists for Klamath Country Volunteer of the Year received a special award. These included: Youth Division: Grace Berardino (Henley High School Key Club President, SMART Reading, Klamath County Library); Saira Blevins (KU High School, Citizens for Safe Schools, Youth Rising, Klamath Animal Shelter); and Daniel McVay (KU High School DECA Club President). Adult Division: Aurora Sanchez, (Citizens for Safe Schools mentor) and Emma Tibay (Girl Scouts Troop leader). Senior Division: Donna Marie Kness (Bly Community Action Team President and board member of Bly Water & Sanitary District), and Norma Jean Wilder (“Blessing Pot” founder and Director). Education Division: SMART Reading. Public Service & Public Safety Division: Sky Lakes Medical Center Volunteers (normally provide 29,000 hours of assistance to patients and visitors); and the Klamath County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Unit (85 volunteers donating estimated 6,000 to 10,000 hours annually to save people).

“To learn more about the 37 volunteer of the year nominees, we encourage everyone to read a special publication in the Herald and News on Friday, April 23,” said Leroy Cabral, United Way executive director. “This is our 28th annual volunteer of the year appreciation celebration. We hopeful next spring to gather at the Klamath Basin Senior Citizens’ Center to enjoy lunch and hear the amazing stories of Klamath’s most prized attribute — it’s volunteers.”