Amid unprecedented need, more than 100 area residents crowded into the Faribo West Mall Saturday for the Faribault Rotary Club’s annual Warm our Community Event.
Event organizer and Faribault Rotary Club member Keith Kramer noted that just 45 minutes into the event organizers had already handed out 100 “tickets,” enabling families to get some much needed warm winter outerwear.
That was well in excess of the roughly 70 families that showed up at last year’s Warm our Community Event. Thanks to generous contributions from the community and a long list of local businesses and organizations, there were more coats, mittens and hats than before.
That was a huge help for families who have struggled with low wages or job loss over the last few months. Local refugee Star Aye, a Montgomery resident who is part of the region’s growing Karen refugee community, and her husband Thein Shwe were among them.
Aye has lived in Minnesota for a decade, but it was her first time at Warm our Community. She said that for her family, the opportunity to get the winter clothes her family needs without having to spend big bucks at a department store was a big help.
Boots, coats and snow pants for children were the first to go, but larger sizes were in demand too. In addition to outerwear, the Warm Our Community event expanded this year to provide food boxes and flu shots for those in need.
Food boxes were provided by a coalition of local nonprofits including Faribault Youth Investment and Growing Up Healthy, which have joined together in recent months to fill the need left behind by the abrupt closure of the Faribault Area Food Shelf.
It was the first time the event has been held at the Faribo West Mall, along with the first time it was held on Halloween. While the setting provided much welcome additional space, minimizing the spread of COVID-19 was still a challenge given the large crowd.
For Natalie Ginter, a local Rotarian, this was her third year helping out with the event. She said that every year, she’s seen the event grow and become more organized, and this year was no exception.
“This location is really great,” she said. “There’s a lot of room to spread out.”
For Ginter, the event was about ensuring that the dignity of every person. That’s also what has motivated numerous volunteers from the River Valley Church to help organize the event for the last several years, including Misty Zacharaias.
Though Zacharias had previously heard about the event, it was her first time participating. She said that she was thankful to be able to help and hoped that the yearly tradition will continue well into the future.
“This event is a great blessing for the community,” said Zacharias. “I just wish we had more to give to everybody.”
Rotarian Kurt Halverson also expressed disappointment that there weren’t enough winter clothes to go around. Still, he expressed gratitude for the commitment of so many area residents to helping the less fortunate.
“It’s amazing to see all of the support that’s available here in Faribault,” he said. “It really warms your heart.”
In addition to River Valley Church and the Rotary Club, several participants were new this year. With hunger concerns rising as the pandemic drags on into winter and federal assistance begins to run out, food boxes with a “breakfast” theme were also available.
FYI Executive Director Becky Ford was at Saturday’s event to distribute the boxes, and said that she would stay until all 150 she had brought were gone. Although demand wasn’t quite as high for food as for the winter wear, Ford said that about a third of the boxes were gone an hour into the event.
Demand was notably lower for flu shots provided by Rice County Public Health. Supervisor Laura Burkhartzmeyer stressed the importance of getting a flu shot amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but expressed disappointment at the lack of interest.
“A lot of people have already gotten it or they just don’t believe in it,” she said.
A trio of waste disposal companies have filed suit in federal court, arguing that the county overstepped its bounds by designating the city of Red Wing’s waste disposal facility as the recipient of all county trash.
According to the lawsuit filed Oct. 19 by Minneapolis attorney Erick Kaardal in United States District Court, the county’s action appears to have violated the U.S. Constitution’s dormant Commerce Clause. Under the clause, a long-held legal interpretation embedded in Article I of the Constitution, state and local governments are prohibited from taking steps to inhibit interstate commerce.
Kaardal maintains that the county did just that by passing an ordinance prohibiting county haulers from disposing of their waste at Paul’s Industrial Garage, a Wisconsin company with a transfer station across the river in Hager City, Wisconsin.
In 2019, Paul’s did nearly $300,000 in business with Goodhue County customers. Under the county’s new ordinance, Paul’s would be required to transfer all Goodhue County waste to the municipal waste campus with a tipping fee of $118 per ton.
The lawsuit states that Paul’s currently charges a much lower tipping fee for its own customers. Those customers include Minnesota companies Countryside Disposal and Flom Disposal, which are named in the lawsuit, and Advanced Disposal, which is not.
Waste from those three haulers composes approximately 30% of the business Paul’s does, and due to the comparatively low tipping fees offered by Paul’s, which run at about $65 to $67, it’s a good deal for the Minnesota waste disposal companies.
The new waste disposal ordinance was passed over vociferous opposition from the Kenyon and Wanamingo City Councils, which said it would dramatically and unfairly increase prices for consumers and businesses in the area. Retiring County Commissioner Barney Nesseth, who represents the Kenyon area, voted against the ordinance along with his colleague Jason Majerus, and asked for a study to see the true impacts of the change.
“According to (County Engineer Greg) Isakson’s numbers, my district will be paying 50% of the increased costs, it’s an unfair deal for residents of my district,” said Nesseth.“I can’t support this. It’s not fair to my residents in the district to bear the burden of the cost of this new ordinance.”
Anticipating the change, Kenyon’s local hauler Flom Disposal asked for a 24% increase in residential hauling rate even before the ordinance went into effect. Kenyon councilors expressed frustration with the increase but laid the blame firmly at the feet of the county.
By delivering solid waste to the Red Wing municipal plant, the county will be able to deliver more fuel to Xcel Energy’s Red Wing power plant, which has run on refuse-driven fuel since 1986 and currently provides enough power for 50% of Red Wing homes.
In 2016, the county passed a Comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan which included a commitment to dispose of all waste at the municipal facility. From there, the city pays Xcel to accept its waste. At the same time, Xcel has voluntarily reciprocated by paying for improvements to the municipal facility.
Thus, Kaardal’s suit argues that the unique status granted to the municipal plant, and by extension its main customer Xcel, is by nature “monopolistic” and thus unconstitutionally discriminatory against the Paul’s, Wisconsin-based hauler.
At an emergency board session on Oct. 29, the Goodhue County Board of Commissioners discussed strategy for the lawsuit. County Attorney Stephen O’Keefe declined to comment on the county’s approach but said it had opted to hire outside counsel, Andrew Pieper of Stoel Rives.
Neither Pieper nor Kaardal responded to requests for comment for this article.
Doing research on a local community requires more than visiting a historical society, according to Rice County Historical Society Executive Director Sue Garwood.
Various buildings throughout Faribault, for example, contain their own historical documents and pictures that offer a different angle of the past. But thanks to an online tool, researchers can gain a deeper understanding of Rice County with just a few clicks of a mouse.
An online tool that started 14 years ago, called the Northfield History Collaborative, recently began its evolution into a county-wide effort due to a partnership between the Northfield Historical Society, the Rice County Historical Society and Carleton College. The tool, now called the Northfield-Rice County Digital History Collection (DHC) compiles information from various sources in one place for easy access. The DHC is available for anyone to access at nrcdighistory.org.
“We actually haven’t embarked on new content yet, but we’ve got some potential communities that would like their items added, and we’ll be looking through those in the coming months and year,” said Cathy Osterman, executive director of the Northfield Historical Society. “So it will grow from something that is just Northfield-based to something that is county wide.”
Said Garwood: “What’s nice is that because of Carleton College and the work already done by the previous iteration, that previous content is still available. The key is this is getting our primary resources out to the community in a way that doesn’t require them to walk through our door — although there is always more for them to see if they do walk through our door.”
The Northfield History Collaborative began in 2007, under a collaboration between the Northfield Historical Society, Carleton College, Northfield Public Library and Rice County Historical Society. The online tool originally provided a one-stop access point for users to gather information on two topics: Education in Northfield and the James-Younger Gang Bank Raid. The project expanded in 2011 to involve more Northfield partners like churches, organizations and businesses.
Since October 2019, the project’s Steering Committee talked about broadening the research tool to encompass the rest of Rice County. Now, with a new name and organization group, the foundation for the DHC has been laid. The Steering Committee will start looking into possible grant writing in 2021 to further the scope of the project.
Although COVID-19 wasn’t the driving force behind the DHC expansion, Garwood said the pandemic gives even more value to the online tool. This is particularly true for students who may not have access to libraries as they conduct research for essays or projects.
DHC works with 17 different sources on the website, most of them so far based in Northfield. Those outside of Northfield include Chistdala Church Preservation and Cemetery Association, the city of Dundas, Bridgewater Township and the Rice County Historical Society. Through DHC, researchers and history enthusiasts can examine sources they might not otherwise consider. For example, one of the online sources is KYMN Radio, which has a wealth of audiotaped interviews.
While no entities in Faribault have signed on just yet, Garwood said some of those places that could contribute if they choose include churches, the Minnesota State Academies, the Morristown Historical Society and Shattuck-St. Mary’s School. The Rice County Historical Society may welcome community members to contribute significant images or artifacts to the compilation, if they have the copyrights.
In the DHC, Osterman said staff members from the Northfield Historical Society have previously searched through the archives to find the most historic items. The search feature on the site allows researchers to find information with key words or by browsing topical collections like “Arts and Culture” or “World War I in Northfield and Rice County.”
“The whole thing is really designed to be very researcher friendly,” Osterman said. “We’ve already compiled all these resources together; it’s already sitting in one location, preserved and available 24/7 for whoever needs and wants that. I think that’s one of the most important things for us, to keep it researcher friendly.”