Bob Dobler has lived on the cutting edge of kindness ever since retiring and moving to Emerald Isle, North Carolina.

Dobler’s life has revolved around Backpack Friends, a nonprofit that provides food for local schoolchildren on weekends and holidays. A skilled woodworker, he’s raised more than $54,000 through sales of 3,500 cutting boards over the past seven years. His donations have helped provide more than 6,750 backpacks of food to children in 18 local schools across three counties.

For his efforts, Dobler, 82, earned the $5,000 grand prize in the 2020 Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives #WhoPowersYou contest.

The honor “is absolutely mind-blowing,” said Dobler, whose winnings will help Backpack Friends build a retractable awning to shield on-site volunteers from rain and sun.

Dobler was nominated for the award by Melissa Glenn, a communications specialist at Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative, based in Newport, North Carolina. In her nomination application, Glenn wrote that Dobler “gives freely of his time and talent. He has a heart for helping those that are most in need.”

Dobler has helped Backpack Friends in other ways, too. When he’s not in his woodworking shop, he’s at the nonprofit’s warehouse, filling backpacks and delivering them to schools. Or he’s consulting with Danielle Abraham, the nonprofit’s executive director, on purchasing and inventory issues, an area he’s familiar with through his 35-year career in sales and marketing at the Quaker Oats Co.

Abraham said Dobler’s advice helped the group expand the weekly deliveries from 200 backpacks when he began in 2012 to more than 600 today.

“He’s just brought so much knowledge to the business side of this program,” said Abraham. “I would have said in the past that I am the heart of the program, and he is the head. But honestly, he has the heart for this beloved program now, too.”

The cutting boards come in four sizes, and Dobler uses three different types of wood to create a distinctive checkerboard pattern. He makes about 200 boards each month.

“It’s impossible to say how much time goes into each board,” he said. “I spend about six hours a day in my shop to keep up with the demand.”

This is the fifth and final year of the #WhoPowersYou contest. Since the contest began, Touchstone Energy has donated $47,500 to local projects led by contest winners, all of them nominated by local co-ops. Twenty-six individuals received awards, but the combined impact of all the good deeds from the 822 contest applicants will be felt for years to come.

“These people are heroes in their communities and to us all in the Touchstone Energy Cooperatives network,” said Jana Adams, Touchstone Energy’s executive director. “They tirelessly demonstrate what it means to have a servant's heart, and we are honored to recognize them for their dedication to our core value of commitment to community."

In place of the national contest, Touchstone Energy will help co-ops launch local versions in their communities. A playbook will be available in March 2021 with tips on advertising, promotion and lessons learned from the national contest.

This year's #WhoPowersYou winners were chosen from 137 nominations reviewed by an independent panel of judges.

  • The $2,000 second prize went to Shanna Lunasin, People's Energy Cooperative, Oronoco, Minnesota, for starting Childhood Cancer Community, a support group.
  • The winners of the $1,500 third prize are Blake and Rachel Schmieg, Whetstone Valley Electric Co-op, Millbank, South Dakota, for fostering more than a dozen children in their home.
  • The $500 honorable mention prize went to Michelle Tuite, North Central Electric Cooperative, Attica, Ohio, for helping children facing hunger and unstable conditions at home due to the opioid crisis.

To learn more about past #WhoPowersYou winners, check out the Hall of Fame.