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Former Marine Saves Up to Make Big Gift to Food Bank

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OLYMPIA, Wash.  — The Thurston County Food Bank receives emails from people who want to help every day. Some offer an egg carton or loaf of bread. Others help wash cars or give cash donations, usually $10 to $50.

Wealthier local residents sometimes make donations in the range of $1,000 or $2,000, reported The Olympian.

So when Fran Potasnik, a full-time volunteer at the food bank, checked her inbox and found an email from another prospective donor in April, she didn't think much of it.

Until she opened it and read, "Hi my name is John, and I plan on giving $10,000."

John Skorna, 27, vowed to donate the $10,000 to the food bank's summer lunch program. Potasnik told him a gift like that would provide 2,762 lunches — 20 percent of the 10,777 meals distributed to kids every summer.

"I thought, 'OK, what is this guy?'" Potasnik said. "I then forwarded it to the director and said, 'I don't know if this is for real or not.'"

"My first thought was a little bit of skepticism, but not in a negative way," Food Bank Director Robert Coit said. "John's email had a sense of sincerity and passion. Both Fran and I felt there was something about it that seemed real."

Skorna wrote to Coit that he had most of the $10,000, but would need more time to collect the rest. Coit said he understood and reminded him that no matter the amount, any donation is noble and they would be grateful.

Potasnik and Coit had all but forgotten Skorna's pledge until June 10, when he arrived at the food bank with a cashier's check for $10,000.

Skorna was with his boss, Ken Albright, whose construction company agreed to match a percentage of the donation, which amounted to $500.

"The receptionists thought we were there to pick up food," Albright said. "Workers started pulling out carts for us."

Cayla Ravancho, a food bank worker and Skorna's longtime friend, noticed Skorna as he approached.

He hugged her tight, asked her how she was, and told her he was making a donation, with no mention of the figure.

Ravancho escorted him to meet the director and sign some papers. She returned to Albright who was waiting in the lobby, cracking jokes and signaling high anticipation.

"(Albright) told me 'John is in here to make a donation of $10,000 of his hard-earned money,'" Ravancho said. "I had no idea. That moment restored my faith in humanity."

Skorna finished the donation paperwork before returning to the lobby for some pictures and a second chat with Ravancho.

"When he came in, he was this young, modest, almost apologetic guy," Coit said. "He refused to make it about himself and instead focused on how other people can do this, too."

At age 12, Skorna defeated Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system. He graduated from River Ridge High School in Lacey, where he played football.

Skorna joined the Marines in 2007, where he became a sergeant in a Marine Expeditionary Unit. He toured locations along the Mediterranean Sea such as Spain and Turkey, as well as United Arab Emirates and Haiti.

"We toured the cities, talking to people, assessing the damages and handing out emergency supplies," Skorna said.

After the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Skorna helped unload baby food from a supply ship. He remembers interacting with the Haitian people and being shocked by their resiliency.

"They had all this chaos and destruction around them, but still were in good spirits," Skorna said.

Skorna left the Marines in 2011 after four years of active duty, but he said the time he spent in stricken areas fueled his desire to donate.

Skorna had decided he wanted to donate to the food bank, but didn't have the means — until he was hired at a construction site in December 2015 at a rate of $16.30 per hour.

"Before the job, I prayed. I pleaded to get more so I can give more," Skorna said. "There's no hidden agenda. I wanted to do something for kids, something to make the community better."

Skorna spent six months, January to June, forcing himself to build his savings.

"It was just something I had to do," Skorna said. "I didn't spend money on anything other than the necessities."

That meant just gas, food and a $100 cellphone bill. He said he nearly bought a tattoo with a chunk of his savings in February, but backed out at the last minute.

When June came, Skorna had $10,200 in his bank account. He didn't hesitate to withdraw nearly every dollar.

"I was happy to actually see the check," Skorna said. "I've never even owned more than a couple thousand dollars."

Skorna says he doesn't want an award, money or public recognition. If people want to reward him, he said they should give to the food bank.

"It feels like I'm not doing anything," Skorna said. "The real heroes are the volunteers who interact with people. I'm just supporting them."

Skorna plans to continue giving. He has set a new donation goal of $100,000 — which he knows makes others skeptical.

"I've defeated cancer, I've been the high school football team captain, I've been in the Marine Corps," Skorna said. "But this goal is higher and bigger than anything I've ever done."

Ravancho is not surprised by Skorna's $10,000 donation. She said he was the most genuine guy she knew in high school, and he has only become more selfless and thoughtful.

"He's the epitome of what a service person looks like," Ravancho said. "He'll do selfless things with integrity, and he doesn't need someone to say thank you. He could have come in here, given the check and left without saying a word to anyone. That would have been enough for him."

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