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Jefferson Award Winner: Mary Harnisch

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BLOOMER (WQOW) - "No" doesn't appear to be in the vocabulary of this month's Jefferson Award winner.

"I've spent 40-some years working in health care and I retired a few years ago," said Mary Harnisch of Bloomer. "When I retired, I did what everybody does when they retire, it's all about you for those first couple years."

That's when Harnisch hit a roadblock.

"I felt like I didn't have any purpose."

So, she started searching for volunteer work, and the opportunities were endless. It started with the Bloomer Food Pantry.

Harnisch helps pack, order and hand out food at the Bloomer Food Pantry

"I've been with the food pantry for about five years now," Harnisch said. "And I do all kinds of things there. I support the director, I hand out food, I order food, I help with fundraising. It's really been eye-opening for me to realize what people have to deal with on a day-to-day basis."

However, once people find out you're a volunteer, your schedule fills fast.

"Mayo was asking for people who felt comfortable to come in, and to volunteer. And I thought, of all the places, I felt safer here than anywhere," Harnisch said.

That is, during a pandemic. She's only been volunteering at Mayo Clinic Health System for about nine months, but, this was a special kind of opportunity for her.

Harnisch went from working at Mayo Clinic to becoming a STEP Force volunteer

"The fact that I worked here, I felt like I really should pay back some of the wonderful things Mayo has done for me."

That's not all Harnisch does for her community.

"I became the president of the Women of the Moose a couple years ago and so we've done a variety of projects over the last couple of years."

That includes collecting winter clothing for students in the Chippewa Falls School District, and collecting socks for those experiencing homelessness in the Chippewa Valley.

"It's like if I have the time and the capacity, I have a hard time saying no," said Harnisch.

But Harnisch said it's not just about time and capacity.

"We don't work together like we used to. So, I think it's important that we volunteer and try to work for the betterment of everybody."

Harnisch also volunteers with the American Red Cross, Free Clinic in Chippewa Falls and the Women's Club in Bloomer.

If you know someone in the community making a difference through volunteering, nominate them here.

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Shannon Hoyt

Shannon Hoyt started out as an intern in August 2017, moving to a full-time multi-media journalist and weekend anchor before becoming Daybreak anchor and now our 6 and 10 p.m. co-anchor.

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