Community Heroes: Sally Irwin and Kathryn Murphy team up for charity

Coco Bancroft joins Kathryn Murphy and Sally Irwin (from left) at the 2019 St. Germaine Silver Tea.
Coco Bancroft joins Kathryn Murphy and Sally Irwin (from left) at the 2019 St. Germaine Silver Tea.

Amid the sea of heartwarming stories that come with the La Jolla Light’s Community Heroes nominations, there was a double heartwarmer this week.

La Jolla resident Sally Irwin was nominated for her volunteerism with San Diego Military Outreach Ministries. Though she said she was “honored,” Irwin has a family member in need of care and couldn’t commit to an interview.

So she nominated fellow La Jollan Kathryn Murphy, “one of the most generous people I know.”

Murphy said that to be nominated was “kind,” but because she doesn’t “feel like I’m currently spending enough time helping the community the way I used to,” she offered another nomination — Sally Irwin.

The two know each other through their work with San Diego Military Outreach Ministries and other local charities.

The mission of the La Mesa-based San Diego MOM is to help junior enlisted military personnel in San Diego County with basic needs. It distributes food in November and December and allows military families to shop at its distribution center. It also holds events for those separated from their families, such as baby showers and Easter egg hunts.

Irwin and Murphy started a “Turkey Trot” fundraiser to gather the community for a walk along Girard Avenue to La Jolla Cove and back and collect diapers and groceries to be donated to San Diego MOM families.

Sally Irwin loads up a haul from the 2020 "Turkey Trot" for San Diego Military Outreach Ministries.

“[Kathryn is] very involved with numerous charities, including St. Germaine, Humble Design and Military Outreach Ministries bikes and helmets,” Irwin said. “She started the Christmas shopping for Military Outreach Ministries with me and always participates in the Turkey Trot, where I collect canned food and diapers for them.”

Murphy said “Sally delivers these items the next day. She also is currently organizing gathering donations for the Military Outreach program through La Jolla Presbyterian Church.”

La Jollan Susan McClellan said “Sally and a group of friends take the monetary donations, which can be in the thousands of dollars, to Target, where she has a special relationship. Target managers were so impressed with the purchase of the bicycles for military families during the holidays that they have added helmets for free. Sally is clearly someone whose heart is big, and she influences friends, groups and store management to also engage in helping others.”

Irwin and Murphy have been involved with St. Germaine’s Children’s Charity, whose mission is to provide financial and in-kind support to San Diego County’s abused and neglected children through grants to the agencies that serve them.

Sarah Burton Hawkins, who has known the pair for 40 years and served with them during their time with St. Germaine, said both “are women with hearts of gold. They give and give and give. ... They are selfless workers committed to helping.”

She said she and Irwin raised their children together, and Murphy’s daughter is married to Burton Hawkins’ son.

“We were in St. Germaine when it started, and from the beginning they have generously donated their time, but most importantly, their hearts are into helping others,” Burton Hawkins said. “Everything Kathryn and Sally do, they put their all into and ... support the organizations that mean something to them. ... They are dedicated, and it is common knowledge that they are generous with their time and positive energy.”

When told that both women had declined to be interviewed about themselves, Burton Hawkins said: “They would never ask to be highlighted. That’s just the way they are.”

Community Heroes logo
(Daniel K. Lew)

The La Jolla Light’s Community Heroes series for the holiday period highlights people who aren’t often in the news but make a difference in the lives of others. If you know such a person, email Editor Rob Vardon at Please limit suggestions to people who live or work in La Jolla or otherwise have strong ties to the community.