Volunteer helps the service he once needed

Richard Thomas 

Donn Hawn, CHUM volunteer. Photo credit: Richard Thomas
Donn Hawn, CHUM volunteer. Photo credit: Richard Thomas

Donn Hawn has volunteered with CHUM Ministries for five years. The first four years he worked at the homeless shelter downtown on First Avenue West, where he resided when he was homeless himself. Over the past year he has volunteered at the food shelf across the street.

Born of “German-Irish-Norwegian-Danish” heritage, he was raised in the Northfield, Minn. region (home of a famous bank raid by Jesse James). A girl he knew in high school spelled his first name with two N’s and he kept it that way ever since. 

In 1986 he moved to Duluth, hoping to stay with a friend whom he then couldn’t locate, but he ended up staying. A few years later he got into “a fight that went too far” and ended up in prison for six years. “It took prison to change where I’m at,” he said. He took college-level classes and volunteered in the education department. 

After prison, in 1997, he went back to school at the National American University in Roseville, and was two credits shy of a bachelor’s degree in business, when he got in a head-on car accident that laid him up a year and a half. He returned to Duluth in 2001 and married in 2003.

After nearly 10 years of marriage he broke up with his wife, left home with “nothing but the clothes on my back.” For a time he wintered in “Graffiti Graveyard” under the I-35 overpass. He then got into the CHUM shelter and stayed for two months before finding stable housing. The process was a struggle even with the help of agencies. “I put a lot of miles on my tennis shoes,” he said. When approaching potential landlords, “I was straight up with them and they told me, ‘You’re an ex-felon. I’m not going to rent to you,’” he said.

At the food shelf he puts in between 15 and 30 hours a week. “I’ve always enjoyed giving back,” he said. “I enjoy seeing what difference I do in a person’s life. I love to see a person smile. It’s another way of paying my debt to society, paying it forward.”

He is also an activist with CHUM, meeting with elected officials to promote housing for low-income people. Some politicians know him on a first-name basis. “When we see each other it’s like we’ve known each other for 20 years, though it’s actually four and a half,” he said.

For anyone going through what he’s been through, he said, “Just keep going forward, know what you want to do and make your plan.”

The food shelf has approximately 100 volunteers and distributes 260,000 pounds of food in a year, according to CHUM. About 37 percent of those fed are children. The downtown location, at 120 N. First Ave. W., is open Wednesdays and Fridays 10 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. It is also open 3:30-6:30 p.m. on the first and last Wednesdays of the month.

Food is also distributed at Mondays 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, 1814 N. 51st Ave. E., and Tuesdays and Thursdays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, 4831 Grand Ave. 

Donations are always needed. For information visit chumduluth.org or call 218-720-6521.