Welcome to our series, #WHYoming, brought to you in partnership by Kaumo Law.
We are highlighting people from around our communities and asking them a few questions. We want to learn a little about them and see why they chose this great state to raise their families, start their businesses, or simply to ask — Why Wyoming?
For this week’s #WHYoming, I had a chance to sit down with Donna Toly, the coordinator at the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen in Rock Springs. A retired Home Economics teacher, Donna has a passion for cooking and baking, as well as quilting. And with her retirement, she has found the time to use these passions for something very dear to her heart– volunteering.
Beyond her volunteer work for the Loaves and Fishes Soup Kitchen, Donna also organizes the program, “Blankets for kids, with LOVE”, which donates hand-maid quilts to children who are experiencing trauma and need a hug.
Donna came to Rock Springs nearly 40 years ago and has made this place her home. Through her teaching career and now her volunteer work, she has dedicated her life to serving this community. Moving from New Jersey to Wyoming was surely a big change, but she loves Rock Springs, Sweetwater County, and Wyoming. Plus, she loves the cold winters!
“I’d be happy if it was winter all the time,” Donna said. “Bring on the snow.”
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Donna, what do you do for a living?
I’m retired now, but I started teaching Home Economics in New Jersey and I was looking for a change after three years. I moved to Rock Springs 40 years ago this August. Teaching at White Mountain Jr. High from 1979 to 1997 (18 years). In 1997 I moved into the Nutrition Service Department where I became the Director of Nutrition Services until 2014 when I retired.
Two week before school started in 2014-2015, Vice Principal, Todd Bennet, paid me a visit and asked me if I would help for a few weeks, covering Skills for Healthy Living classes and the Child Development classes at the Rock Spring Jr. High School. I ended up teaching the entire year. It was the best year of my teaching career. I’m very thankful for the experience returning to the classroom.
During that year I had 45 students, who I had taught at least one or both of their parents.
Tell me a bit about volunteering at the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen.
I enjoy having contact with people and helping where needed. My favorite things to do are cooking and sewing. So cooking at the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen just fits me. I started four years ago helping at the pantry. After six months they had an opening for a coordinator, I called friends that were retired and we put together a group.
When people ask what church we are affiliated with, we tell them it’s the “church of the retired women”. Each week a different church is responsible for serving a nutritional lunch in the basement at the SS Cyril and Methodius Church.
What other volunteer work do you do in the community?
I’m a member of Beta Sigma Phi Sorrority and we love helping in the community. Occasionally we do catering as a fundraiser. It’s a way for us to earn money to donate for worthy community programs.
Another passion I have is to organize “Blankets for kids, with LOVE”. I work with blanketers who sew quilts for children who are having trauma in their lives and need a hug. We create quilts for the hospital, children in the Department of Family Services Program, children at the Safe House, young moms in the Inside Connection program, and we just made connection with the Sleep in Heavenly Peace program.
We have donated over 3,000 blankets during the last eleven years. I have an amazing group of quilters/sewers that share their talent making quilt, or HUGS, for kids.
If you have a skill to make a blanket and would like to donate your blankets, give me a call at 307-705-0805.
Why do you find it important to volunteer?
For 36 years, I had a daily routine of family responsibility and a career. I’m programmed to have a schedule daily, so when I retired I just continued to make every minute count and do things that are measurable at the end of the day. I find I’m more productive when I have a lesson plan.
Volunteering helps me fill my days and I achieve great satisfaction in knowing I did something that made someone’s life better and brought them comfort. I now have time to help.
How did you end up in Rock Springs?
After teaching in Trenton, New Jersey, I was looking for a change. I hired an employment agency in Philadelphia, this was before the internet was public, and they located eight Home Ec teaching positions. Rock Springs didn’t pay the best but they had the closest airport to town and I thought I would take advantage of traveling home to NJ.
The staff at White Mountain Jr High School became family for me. It was an amazing supportive group from administration to staff to students to their parents. I’m still close to them and enjoy our visits when I run into them out and about.
I met my husband here and Sweetwater County was a great place to raise a family. Sweetwater County School District #1 allowed me to have the career of my dreams.
What is something unique about you?
I’m an identical twin. My sister lives in New Jersey and she had a degree in Home Ec but chose a career to own a Floral Shop and just retired this past January. I think she was jealous I’m having too much fun being retired.
What are some of your hobbies?
My hobbies are cooking, especially baking, and quilting.
What do you appreciate most about our community?
Our community pulls together when help is needed. This past year I called on sewing classes, quilt guilds, and quilting friends, and they produced 165 quilts to donate to different organizations that comfort kids in trauma. They produced quilts that gave “hugs of comfort”.
If you could give one brief piece of advice, what would it be?
Leave your problems home, locked behind the door. They’ll still be there when you return and you might have a solution after a break from it.
Do things that give you the best comforting feeling.
If you think you’re having bad day take a minute to look around, there is always someone worse off that you can help out and make yourself feel better.
Where is your favorite place to hang out in Sweetwater County?
Indoors: My sewing room. It gives me comfort and enjoyment.
Outdoors: Anywhere I can see for miles. I love the open space of Wyoming. Love the cold weather and the fact that there is very low humidity. After traveling somewhere out of the state, I always love driving back to Rock Springs, with its open space, little traffic, and the beauty of the land.
Would you rather walk, ride a bike, take a horse, or drive a car?
I walk Monday through Friday in the early mornings with my neighbor, Thelma. I don’t like to exercise! We figure if we walk first thing in the morning we have our exercise checked off the list and we can sew the rest of the day.
My favorite means of travel is a car. I have solved some of my biggest problems driving long distances.
What would you sing at karaoke night?
I would never sing karaoke. I don’t sing, I think I’m tone deaf!
How would your friends describe you?
Always willing to help and volunteer. Very organized and lots of energy that keeps on going, something like the energizer bunny.
What is one of your proudest accomplishments?
My husband and sons are first on my list. Family is very important to me, I love spending time with them. Next accomplishment was when I received the title of Wyoming School Nutrition Director of the Year in 2012. Then to top that I was selected the Northwest Regional Director of the Year. I was so proud for putting Wyoming on the National award map. This award was the result of a supportive nutrition staff that put students first every day. We were there to meet their needs. I had an incredible staff!
Why do you continue to live in Wyoming?
It’s home for me now. My family is still here, I love the neighborhood, the people, and all that there is to do.
And, I love winters!
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