Saint Joni

Joni Brenneisen

I AM ALWAYS SUSPICIOUS when I hear someone described as a ‘saint.’ Maybe it’s because I tend not to meet them in my line of work, so I assume they don’t exist.

Except that I met one the other day. Her name is Joni and what she does is raise money and re-purpose clothes, bags, and shoes and then gives them to homeless people and kids in need.

She has this thing called love in her heart, where the more she gives, the more she wants to. She is persistent, unrepentantly sly, and remarkably successful. You can see all of this in her face. (She does allow herself some pride in this.)

So do this: if you don’t need what you have, give it to Joni. She will be sure that someone who needs it will get it. If you are lucky, and you meet her, you might catch some of what Joni has.

You’re in the sales business. At some level you have to persuade people.

Describe a day in your life.

I make peanut butter and jelly sack lunches at church for homeless shelters and people on the streets. We also gather clothes for the homeless and kids. I get the clothes from neighbors, from the congregation. It’s overwhelming. We have men’s, women’s, and kid’s clothes.

The lunches come from the Food Depot, neighbors and the congregation. I find food at my front door all the time that people have donated.

How did you get started with this?

It kind of just happened, fell into my lap. My husband and I had three Hallmark stores in Santa Fe. We sold our last one after 25 years and traveled the world. We went to China, Canada, Mexico, Hawaii. You name it, we went there.

We came home and we were going to a health club every morning, like at 5:00 am. And one day we said, Why do we go at 5:00? We’re retired. We don’t need to be there at 5:00. Let’s go a little bit later. Sleep in, have fun. That’s what retirement’s all about.

One day we’re sitting in the backyard having coffee and he said, So what are you gonna do now? And I said, Well, geez, I don’t know. That Sunday in church, the pastor said that our youth pastor was moving on. And so after church, I went up to him and I said, Let me do it. I want to be a youth pastor.

He explained that I couldn’t be pastor because I didn’t go to seminary, but he said I could be our Faithful Presence Coordinator, getting the church involved in the community. I want us doing things, he said, helping in the community wherever you find that there’s a need. We started doing dinners once a month at Pete’s Place. That was 13 years ago. There you have it.


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