Donna Burklo, 54. at Family Kitchen

A woman named Cheryl Parton reached out to me to discuss a potential collaboration. And then, after we met and chatted, she referred Donna to me. Donna saw herself more in the connecting role than in directly participating, but I twisted her arm and she graciously accepted. She’s a hard worker and full of dedication. And she’s so thoughtful. She reached out to me later in the day of our interview to ask me to include that she considers herself a friend. Here’s what she said, “My friendships are so important to me. I owe much of my recent state of calm and positiveness to a few very sweet, well-timed friendships.” It says quite a lot about a person when they want to give credit where it’s due. Imagine the community we could have if we all did that. 

Who are you and how would you describe yourself?

Well, I am a mom and I am a sister and a daughter. I, for a profession right now, am a realtor and a development director and a writer. And I consider myself to be a creative and am noticing more and more the depth of being an empath and I'm working through some of that interesting news for myself at the moment. 

How would you describe the work you do at the Family Kitchen?

So, it's basically meant to be awareness and development work. Also program direction, so I've taken on a little bit more this past year in needing to do some more management kind of efforts - cost management and working with people that work here. I consider this to be the one and only place I could probably do development work. I could be convinced otherwise, but I so wholeheartedly believe in the mission and how this place operates that it's just real easy for me to get in front of anybody and tell them what we do and how we do it and be in a complete open book. I write grants. I do different events. And I manage people. And I manage costs. And, ideally, I do that in a 25-hour work week (laughs). 

What motivates you? 

It's fueled my fire for a variety of work - because I've done a variety of work in my life - and I think it's human potential. Knowing that everybody has a story and a worth and that we all walk the Earth given a starting space and that we all have the right to have the best life we can. I've worked with kids a lot over the years, as well. And I think coming from the assumption that they have a lot more to offer than people think maybe they do. I think that applies here, as well. Our diners have a lot more to offer than people probably think they do. And they're all from a much wider walk of life than anybody probably thinks that they are. I was eluding to that earlier - it's been on my mind a lot lately - just shattering assumptions that are inherently negative. Human nature is to make assumptions about people or events or situations and, unfortunately, all too often they're negative and they don't help people. So I think what motivates me is to just try and be an example - ideally, if I can keep at it - of how you can walk through life and not assume the worst first. 

What does community mean to you?

I've had a lot of great examples of community. I grew up in a very small town. Everybody knew each other. We knew our neighbors. I grew up in a church where - gosh, honestly - we all went through everything together. It was pretty neat. I would say that I had four or five sets of parents and could go to anybody at any time for anything. And still could - left that area a long time ago, but I and my son, for instance, know that we could go back there and be welcomed with open arms. So, I grew up in community. I think the difference here that I've noted is a little more fully involved from a wider aspect. I feel like in Bend I have experienced community in its best form and in its widest form. People caring about their surroundings, caring about each other, really having each other's backs. (Laughs) I don't want to over-glow, but it's really an awesome place that way. And I dove right in when I moved here being involved in community and I think that, of course, probably made a difference. Not everybody would see it that way if they hadn't done that right away. But it's knowing each other and knowing each other's faults and the common aspirations and working together towards the aspirations and building each other up, I think, is community. Having each other's backs - the simple form. It's a big deal.

Where do you think the compulsion for community comes from?

I do think that events and circumstances make a big difference in being open to community. Another word I've been working on for myself for a long time is vulnerability. That's a toughy - for me, at least. What I noticed was when the economic downturn happened here, I think we were all put in a spot where we were having to be more real with each other. There was the Bend where we were all running around happy and floating on air and thrilled to be in our new houses and thrilled to be out in nature and in our perfect schools and then we started hearing each other's stories as the downturn got worse and worse. People being willing to say, Yup, I just filed for bankruptcy. Or, Yup, I had to walk away from my house. I had never been around anything like that. My background was growing up in the Silicon Valley and rising up the latter and making tons of money and, you know, everything was always on the happy side from that perspective. So to be somewhere where that had been the look and know people who were really hitting rock bottom who had never hit rock bottom before and being one of those people and sharing those stories - I think that definitely strengthened the idea of community here quite a bit. And it made a difference in a lot of different ways. Obviously that side, but I think, too, that the nonprofits in town all had to kind of start unifying and finding where they were crossing paths and doing some consolidation. And I think that helped the overall look of the services provided to people in town, as well. And that's continued. I feel like we have a very solid group of nonprofits doing some really solid work these days, where there may have been a little too much overlap before. So that was another interesting way. And I think that built up the nonprofit community quite a bit, as well. 

What is one's role in the fight against inequality or social injustice? 

Yeah, what is one's role? I think to stop and take a breath and listen - ask questions and listen. Until you can do that you're not gonna hear the person's true life. And if you don't know their true story - their life, what they're working through, what's going on - I just don't know how anybody can make decisions about a person and think that's okay without having done those extra steps. So, on the basic level, it's ask before assuming. It's listen before action. And, I think, from there so much more good can happen, but it just doesn't happen often enough. I think that's where really each of us can just do a little bit better job. Here at Family Kitchen I had a fabulous teacher in a woman named Cindy Tidball who was the kitchen coordinator for eight years - just retired last year. When we were chatting about just what goes on here and the people that come here, she told me that she had come to referring to the folks who come here as diners because she was very tired of listening to people say, Oh, it's those homeless folks that you serve at the soup kitchen. Which, by the way, we do not like being called a soup kitchen. Ever so much more is served here than soup. And she went on to say that when you box somebody up like that, you know, and just say that everybody's homeless - which they aren't, I'd say probably 60% of the people who come here to eat are housed. They just can't make ends meet. So, if you're choosing the electric bill or the food bill and you can find a place to get the food... that's why we're here. She would tell every volunteer - she wasn't so much saying don't make assumptions at the time, but that's what really fell on me - but she was saying that the respect that's needed here is to not bundle people into a box that you don't know whether they belong in. That's resonated with me ever since. 

It seems to me that there's a greater number of people who give a damn than those who don't, but they have a smaller voice. What's it going to take?

I'm gonna dip negative for a minute because I kind of have a theory on this and it relates to what you're saying. And that is that we are so in-tuned with slogans and catchphrases and we only read, you know, headlines - I'm oversimplifying - but I think that the folks that understand and are less vocal, it's so hard to put in a tidbit or in a catchy something-or-other all of what it is we're feeling and all of what it is we feel we know now that we're enlightened a little bit more or what have you. It's really easy to put the other stuff in marketable catchphrases. And if that's what's louder and it's quicker, I think that's the issue. So until we all can slow down a little bit and spend a little more time... and again, take the time and do the listening. 

I've used that same scenario on my faith belief. I'm a Christian, yet I'm faced with the fact that Christianity right now is, to the world, sort of the extremist Christianity that's easy to explain. You know, there's a Bible, you follow it, it's the truth, this is right, this is wrong. And that's what the world sees for the most part. The Christianity that I fully believe in is not a literal interpretation of the Bible. It is all people are equal. There's a god that has appeared to people in other religions that are all focused towards the same end result, which is to live together beautifully and lift each other up. But that is so much harder to explain (laughs). And so, therefore, there's a lot of progressive Christianity out there but they haven't found the catchphrases that can help people grasp onto it and say, Yeah, yeah, that's what I get! That's what I meant! I think that happens in most religions where there's an extremist, easy to say, black and white kind of stuff. When you start getting into the mushy grey areas, much harder to market it. We all want to belong to something. And that's a big part of what marketing does and advertising. We all want to belong to something so all of us that are out in the bubbling, slow boil that you spoke of - we don't know yet what to grab onto and say we belong to. 

I don't mean to over-harp on it, but it is this word that I've come to with assumptions. It's an actionable thing. If I can focus on at least being aware. If nothing else, if I can at least be aware of when I'm making an assumption about a person, I've at least slowed down enough to be aware of it. You know, what I do from there is the next step. Because then it is hard to choose. I've been in that boat where I just haven't done anything from the being an activist standpoint because it's mind-boggling - which path do I follow (laughs)? Where do I go? What meetings do I show up to? All of that stuff. But I know I can control at least my focus and if my focus can be on that - on stopping and paying attention and trying to shift some assumptions - that's something I can do and it does cross all of those things. It crosses every path of justice that there is if you think about it. 

What do you wish for the future?

So much (laughs). I wish so much for the future. I wish that everybody could see their value. I think there's nothing more heartbreaking than hearing of people giving up and feeling as though they don't have a place and they don't have a purpose and they don't have anything to offer. That's extremely hard. We've had so much of that in this town lately with kids and others committing suicide. There's just nothing worse. So, I hope for the future that because the world gets so much more open and more wide - that that will help folks to see that they have a place in it rather than feel like it's too big and too much. I hope that we can all listen to each other no matter what. I have a very hard time listening to people with whom I know I won't agree (laughs) with their view on things. But I'd sure love to work on being able to listen - even in that case. So I would hope for the future that we can listen and really hear each other and know that there's someplace that that opinion or idea is coming from that we can learn from. And that kids are valued. I think we've come a long way, but the viewpoint of even the youngest of kids, I think there's a lot to be learned from that brand new, wide-eyed, questioning, wondering standpoint that they offer. That's another big hope - is that we continue to listen to kids and their passions and what they're noticing. I think that's it.  

You have anything else you want to leave with? 

I see a lot of hope. I really do. People might assume that walking through the dining room here that... and it can, it can get really hard. I don't face it as much as our kitchen coordinators do. They're in the dining room for every meal. They get much more personal with the diners. But, I see a lot of hope in the way that interactions happen between our volunteers and the diners. I see a lot of hope, as you have said, in a lot more people caring, a lot more people stepping up. And I think it's very important to recognize the amount of hope that there is.