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Paying it forward: Woman returns to Perham, 15 years after moving away, to give back to the community she says gave her so much

A mother who benefitted from Perham’s generosity 15 years ago has come back to pay it forward.

Former resident Joni Bloomquist said she would have been “living on the streets” back then if not for the support and donations of community members, who rallied around her in her time of greatest need.

Her daughter, Krista Martin, just 10 years old at the time, was battling an unidentifiable type of retinal blastoma, and the disease had caused the young girl to go blind.

A single mother, Joni had trouble keeping up with the medical bills. She felt she needed to be there for her daughter 100-percent of the time, and that meant staying home.

“When you have a sick child, the last thing you want to worry about is work,” she said in an interview last week. “You still have bills, but you just want to be with that child.”

With no money coming in and the bills piling up, a fundraiser held for Krista proved to be just what the family needed. The outpouring of support they got from the people of Perham lifted not only some of their financial stress, but their spirits, too.

Sadly, this moment of relief wasn’t lasting. Krista’s condition got worse, and just months after the fundraiser, she passed away.

Distraught, Joni packed up all of her things and moved out of the area. For more than a decade, she called North Carolina home, getting involved in “a wonderful church” there, she said. She also “started doing a lot of giving back.”

Then, three years ago, she returned to Minnesota, moving to the Brainerd area. It was there that she decided she was ready to do something in memory of her daughter. It was time to give back to others, she determined, the way that others had given to her all those years ago.

“You let it wait for years and years and years,” explained Joni’s mother, Dee Bloomquist, who sat in on the interview with her. “Then you come to a point where you say, ‘Now I’ve got to do something.’”

What Joni did was organize a fundraiser for families going through what she went through – caring for a critically ill child. A portion of the money would go directly to a family in need, she decided, while another portion would go to the Ronald McDonald House in Rochester, Minn., where she used to stay with Krista during her cancer treatments at Mayo.

Friends and connections were able to help Joni find a Twin Cities venue for the fundraiser, so she held her first event there, finding a family in need from that area to receive the funds raised. Deciding that just one fundraiser wasn’t enough, she planned a second one the following year.

This year, her third year, she knew she wanted to do it again, but she wanted to do something a little different. Something extra special.

Joni said someone recently asked her, “Where would Krista like to have this? Have you ever thought about going back to Perham?”

And indeed, she had thought about it. She wanted “to bring it back home, to where we had all our support,” she said.

So she’s doing just that. She’s planning a Sunday, Sept. 15 fundraiser – the 3rd Annual Krista Martin Memorial Raffle – in support of the Hoaby family of New York Mills, who very recently lost their 4-year-old daughter Eva to an inoperable brain tumor.

Joni and her mother have visited town a couple of times in recent weeks to promote the fundraiser and gather some donations. They’ve visited a number of local stores, Joni said, and some people remember her story from 15 years ago, which was told then in a front page newspaper article. Joni also made a personal visit to Eva’s mother, Ashlee, which she said was difficult for her, but also deeply meaningful.

“It’s been more emotional this time around,” Joni said of planning and preparing for the fundraiser.

She added that some days, after talking to people about her daughter and what her family’s been through, she “just went home and cried… but I’m getting through it.”

The fundraiser, to be held at Prairie Wind Middle School from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., will include raffles and games for kids, and a silent auction for adults. A Sloppy Joe lunch will be served, and donations will be accepted.

All of the money raised will go to the cause – most of it to the Hoaby family, and a lesser amount to the Ronald McDonald House to be put toward emergency vouchers for items like diapers and formula, long-distance phone cards or gasoline.

Already, Joni said, the community here has been generous.

“Everybody’s been pitching in and helping for this,” she said, including some schools, businesses, community clubs and individual residents. “I’m so happy to be back here. This town is nice and friendly and has really opened up.”

Bars or other desserts for the fundraiser are still needed. For more information, contact Joni at 218-839-5301.

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

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