Lora Owen is a gold-medal volunteer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Sarah Nagem
When Lora Owen finishes work each evening, there are lots of things she could do ó catch the end of “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” cook dinner, spend time with her family.
Instead, Owen, 36, chooses more magnanimous evening activities.
After she leaves work at the U.S. Department of Agriculture in Davidson County, Owen often drives around in a pickup to several Rowan businesses and collects used cans.
It’s not glamorous work, but the way Owen sees it, she’s helping the environment while raising money for an organization she’s passionate about.
“We’re kind of doing two good things,” she says.
So far, Owen and her helpers have gotten about $1,200 from recycling cans. All the money goes to Faithful Friends, a group that is building a no-kill shelter for abused and abandoned cats and dogs.
Owen has spent countless hours on the project for Faithful Friends. But she does other volunteer work, too.
She helps out at Rowan Helping Ministries. And she does other acts of goodwill with her church, Bethel Lutheran in Salisbury.
Earlier this month, Owen was recognized for her efforts. She received the President’s Volunteer Service Award ó which is kind of the gold medal of volunteerism.
Keith Weatherly, the Agriculture Department’s state executive director, presented the award to Owen on behalf of President George W. Bush.
The ever-humble Owen says she doesn’t like for people to make a fuss over her. Helping people comes naturally to her and her close-knit family, she says.
After Owen graduated from North Rowan High School in 1990, she attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she earned a degree in American history.
When she finished college, Owen moved back to East Ridge Road in Salisbury, where she continues to live with her mother next to her grandparents’ farm.
Owen’s memories of her grandfather, Henry Shuping, who died 11 years ago, are of a giving man.
After his wife, Velna, froze some of the fruits and vegetables the family raised, Henry Shuping used to give watermelons, cantaloupes, corn and tomatoes to his neighbors, Owen says.
“They didn’t sell it or anything,” she says.
Her grandmother, who died in 1994, was a giving person, too, Owen remembers. She used to cook huge lunches for the family, and she would invite the farmworkers to eat, too.
Velna also took meals to the veterans hospital, Owen says.
The young members of the family are already following in the footsteps of their generous ancestors.
Owen doesn’t have any children of her own, but she’s close with her cousin’s kids. When the family decided to have a yard sale a few years ago, the kids decided they could raise money to help victims of Hurricane Katrina, which had slammed into the Gulf Coast.
While the adults ran the yard sale, the kids manned a lemonade stand.
“It was so funny,” Owen says. “They raised more money from the lemonade stand than we did from the yard sale.”
With the same kind of mentality, Owen decided last year she could raise money for Faithful Friends.
She read about the organization in the newspaper and attended a meeting. She ended up on the fundraising committee.
Since then, her can-collecting idea has ballooned.
She enlisted the help of several local businesses, which now save soda cans for Owen to pick up.
Every other day or so, she sets out in a Ford F-150, trailer hitched to the back, and collects the cans.
After a few weeks of that routine, she usually has about 30 garbage bags full of cans. She stores them in her outbuilding, then takes them to local recycling companies.
Owen is thankful gas prices have gone down. Driving around to collect cans on $4 a gallon gas got expensive, she says.
She wasn’t so happy, though, about a drop in the value of recyclables.
Over the summer, Owen says, she got about 85 cents per pound, with about 32 cans in a pound.
Now the price is down to about 35 cents a pound, she says. With that rate, she gets about $80 or $90 per trip to the recycling company.
Anne Ingram, president of Faithful Friends, is grateful for Ingram’s work, regardless of how much money the project brings in.
“I thought that we might make a few dollars,” Ingram said. “I had no idea it would be as successful as it’s been.”
The organization needs about $500,000 for the no-kill shelter, Ingram says. So far, it has raised about $273,000, but the group just spent some of that money to buy a lot adjacent to the 10 acres already donated on Grace Church Road.
With more than $200,000 to go, $1,200 might not sound like much. But Owen hopes to expand her can-collection project.
Already, she isn’t the only one collecting cans. Others people active with Faithful Friends help.
And the group is always trying to recruit individuals and businesses willing to save cans.
“Right now, we’re looking for people that are getting rid of Christmas lights that aren’t working,” Owen says.
Faithful Friends can recycle the old lights, she says.
Owen wants to expand the project, and she hopes more people will volunteer to help her pick up the cans.
While Owen remains dedicated to the cause, she has other obligations.
Once every couple months, she and her mother, Sandra, volunteer, along with others from Bethel Lutheran Church, at the Rowan Helping Ministries shelter.
For five hours, they do laundry and help people check in to the shelter.
Owen says she and her mother take joy in helping there.
“Those people are so thankful,” she says.
If it weren’t for volunteers like Owen, the shelter wouldn’t be open overnight, says Dianne Scott, executive director of Rowan Helping Ministries.
“I mean, the volunteers are the heart and soul of the organization,” Scott says.