ST. GEORGE —Philanthropist Donna MacBean was named an honoree of the 2023 Women of the Year by Utah Business. Their article dubs her the “Mother Teresa of Southern Utah,” and for good reason.

2023 Women of the Year Honoree Donna MacBean takes a photo at her home where she runs the nonprofit organization Neighborhood Connection, St. George, Utah, Oct. 30, 2023 | photo by Jessi Bang, St. George News

MacBean’s resume includes experience with dozens of nonprofit organizations, such as the St. George Dixie Elks Lodge, the Utah Nonprofits Association, Habitat for Humanity of Southwest Utah, the Utah Food Bank and many others.

She’s currently a member of the Dixie Sunshiners of the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce and is on the board of the Hurricane Valley Chamber of Commerce.

But that’s not all.

Macbean also founded and serves as the executive director of Neighborhood Connection, a nonprofit dedicated to providing weekend meals for children. She started the nonprofit eight years ago and spends the majority of her time raising funds, purchasing food, putting together food bags and delivering them to schools.

Being awarded Woman of the Year by Utah Business was a shock to MacBean. With over 80 ladies nominated for the award, she said she was unaware of her nomination until she received an email from the company stating she had won. Initially, she thought it was a scam. When she realized it wasn’t, she said she was overwhelmed with emotion and honored to receive recognition.

Donna MacBean accepts her award for the 2023 Women of the Year Honoree, location and date unspecified | Photo courtesy of Donna MacBean, St. George News

The 20 finalists were sent to northern Utah for a professional photoshoot and video interviews. They attended a cocktail meet-and-greet event, which also included last year’s winners. An award ceremony was held and MacBean gave a short speech that included a story she said will stay with her forever.

“I told a story about this little boy,” she said, tears welling up in her eyes. “He came up to me at the school, and he put his arms around my leg and he said, ‘Since you’ve been feeding us, I don’t have to steal anymore.’”

The idea behind Neighborhood Connection started when she attended a fundraising gala. She listened as another attendee talked about the needs of local children, which included food on the weekends outside of school. Prior to that conversation, she wasn’t aware there was a problem.

“I learned quickly that hunger is a huge problem in Washington County,” she said. “There are about 35,000 kids from kindergarten to grade 12, and approximately 17,000 of those students are living with food insecurity, which means a lot of kids are going hungry.”

One to take action, MacBean got the ball rolling to make a difference. She approached a friend, a certified public accountant, who helped complete all the paperwork, including registering Neighborhood Connection as an official 501(c)3 nonprofit. The organization is run completely out of her home garage.

Volunteers help put together food bags for Neighborhood Connection, a nonprofit founded by Donna MacBean that provides food for children in need, St. George, Utah, Nov. 4, 2023 | Photo courtesy of Donna MacBean via Facebook, St. George News

“People come over and volunteer,” she said, opening her garage to reveal numerous stacks of food waiting to be bagged. “God bless them.”

While many students in need qualify for free breakfast and lunch at school, she said many go home and face hunger on the weekends. Neighborhood Connection provides weekend meals for eight schools in Washington County and feeds around 800 kids every Friday.

“We’re hoping that it supplements what they might already have at home,” she said. “But if not, then at least they have food to last them until Monday morning when they get a free breakfast at school again.”

The food packs include Nissin Cup Noodles and two oatmeal packets. For those without homes, it allows hot water to be obtained from public places such as a gas station and removes the need for a microwave or stove. Pull-top Vienna Sausages are included, taking away the need for a can opener. Weekend food bags also include shelf-stable milk, Capri-Sun, granola bars and pudding.

Food bags prepare to go to children in need of food on the weekends through Neighborhood Connection, St. George, Utah, Oct. 30, 2023 | photo by Jessi Bang, St. George News

For more information on Neighborhood Connection, including where you can donate your time, resources or funds to support their mission, visit their website.

Her work with the St. George Dixie Elks Lodge is also a priority. As an Elk and a Lady of Elk, she supports the nonprofit’s mission and purpose — to raise money for the community and give back as much as possible.

“Last year, our small lodge gave out $35,000 in scholarships,” she said. “That’s a lot for a small city.”

For Halloween, the Elks Lodge put on a “Bewitching Lunch.” The money raised went directly to students at Sunset Elementary who have overdue breakfast and lunch accounts. MacBean said there are many students who don’t qualify for free breakfast and lunch but still cannot afford the cost. That means students end up with overdue meal accounts. The money raised at the luncheon went directly to students in a deficit at Sunset Elementary.

When St. George News sat down with MacBean, she was preparing for a charity chili cookoff, which was set to take place at the Elks Lodge that weekend. The event benefits the Flying Fish Swim Program, an organization started years ago by members of the Elks Lodge. They work in conjunction with St. George City to teach youth and special needs adults how to swim.

Boxes of food bags are ready to go to local schools after volunteers work to put them together, St. George, Utah, Nov. 4, 2023 | Photo by Jessi Bang, St. George News

As the holidays approach, MacBean said it is her busiest time of year. Outside of Neighborhood Connection, she assists with approximately 150 large food boxes for Christmas through the St. George Dixie Elks Lodge. They also provide presents and a banquet for specific families in need on Christmas Day. For more information on the St. George Dixie Elks Lodge, including upcoming charity events, visit their website.

Originally from Canada, MacBean has lived in Utah for 18 years. She and her husband were in the antique business and specialized in turn-of-the-century horse-drawn vehicles. They put semi-loads of antiques together and hauled them from Canada to Turlock, California, to sell them at large auctions. 

Because they couldn’t be “pickers”  in negative 40-degree temperatures, they decided to buy a home in Southern Utah, where they spent their winters before returning to Canada in the spring. After a series of events, they ended up living full-time in Southern Utah – a place she loves.

Read the full 2023 Women of the Year online article along with the video interview by Utah Business at this link. Connect with Donna MacBean on Linkedin or follow @neighborhoodconnection on Instagram.

Photo Gallery

Food is set up to go to children in need of food on the weekends through Neighborhood Connection, St. George, Utah, Oct. 30, 2023 | photo by Jessi Bang, St. George News

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