Penn Yan, N.Y. --- In Yates County Milly Bloomquist, 94, is poised to join the likes of Muhammad Ali, Liz Taylor, Colin Powell, and others when she receives a Presidential Citizenship Award. It is the second-highest honor a U.S. citizen can receive behind only the Medal of Freedom.
Bloomquist is one of 13 who will be honored at the White House on October 20th and she found out about the honor through a phone call last month that she, at first, thought was a prank.
"I did! But it said it on the phone; The White House and I thought the White House?" Bloomquist chuckled at her own disbelief. "What (the caller) said was Mr. Obama is interested in what you have to say. What I have to say!"
In these parts, Milly might be the only one who is surprised that the President of the United States wants to hear what she has to say. For more than 50 years in Yates County Bloomquist has quietly toiled to feed thousands of families who are needy, hungry, and poor.
Milly’s Pantry is now the not-for-profit organized in her name and through The Pinwheel Market and The Café Next Door they aim to make their charity efforts self-sustaining. All the workers are volunteers and all the proceeds go to Food for the Needy, Christmas for the Needy, Milly’s Pantry, and the Backpack Program which provides children with backpacks, school supplies, and each weekend the backpacks are stuffed full of food for their families.
As a school nurse Milly Bloomquist remembers diagnosing the real reason a young student was acting out in class. She took him home and remembers him asking his mother if “he could have that piece of bread now?” Milly recalls that mother saying that she gave that piece of bread to the boy’s sister who was sick.
"I went back to the principal and I said they have no food,” Bloomquist explained before issuing her demands. “I want money from you, and (then) a couple of teacher's came in and I said I want money from you, and I want money from you, and I want money from you, and I'm going to go buy them food."
It is a process that never stopped and Milly’s Pantry President George Schaeffer knows that firsthand.
"When you start working with Milly you just get hooked into it and there's some magical thing there,” Schaeffer said. “The thing is, when she gives something it's not just a can of beans or whatever she also gives her love to that person’ saying I care about you (and) who you are."
While Bloomquist is humbled by the award she’ll receive (“I think they made a mistake!” she jokes) and that call from The White House she is also quick to say it pales in comparison to an entirely different call she received just this past week.
"I had another person call me that I helped over 35-years ago and she said you deserve this, you helped me when I most needed it," Bloomquist said while adding her simple approach to life. "Know your people and when you find somebody that needs help, find somebody to help them; there is somebody out there that will."
To learn more about Milly’s Pantry or to offer your own assistance contact the organization in any of the below ways:
Address: 19 Main Street, Penn Yan, NY, 14527