Thanksgiving is the best day of the year for Julie Fox, who has helped coordinate the Faribault Community Thanksgiving Dinner for the past 12 years.
The 2020 dinner came to mind for Fox back in March, when Gov. Tim Walz issued stay-at-home orders in response to the coronavirus pandemic. She wondered how the 34th annual dinner would look, considering roughly 800 people attend the annual event. To ensure local families and individuals can still have their fill of turkey and pumpkin pie, Faribault Community Thanksgiving Dinner volunteers have organized a curbside pickup and home delivery model in lieu of the in-person meal at the Faribault American Legion.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), eating a Thanksgiving dinner at home with those in one’s immediate household falls under the “lower risk activities” category in terms of COVID-19 exposure. The CDC also notes on its website that no known cases of COVID-19 have occurred as a result of touching or handling food or food packaging.
“Just like everything else in 2020, it will be different, but I think we all need to realize we are blessed that we’re going to have it at all,” Fox said. “… I would love to have that Legion packed but … 2021 is the 35th anniversary, and that’s going to be awesome.”
Buckham West senior center is currently taking reservations for home delivery orders, which volunteers will pick up at the Legion from 10:30 a.m. to noon Thursday, Nov. 26. The deadline for reserving a home delivery order is Monday, Nov. 23.
“In talking with people in the community, the number for Meals on Wheels will be very high this year,” Fox said.
Those who want to pick up their own meals can do so between noon and 1:30 p.m. Thanksgiving Day on the south side of the Legion off of Ravine Street.
Like previous years, the free meal will consist of turkey, potatoes, dressing, pie, a dinner roll and a serving of cranberries. A cold sandwich is the only part of the usual meal the volunteers won’t prepare this year since too many people handle the products to put the sandwiches together. Otherwise, Fox said the community came together once again to donate all the food products for the meal prep at the legion.Community members interested in making cash donations to the cause can make checks payable to the Faribault Foundation or donate nonperishable food items.
This year, recruited volunteers from the community will only assist with home deliveries to reduce person-to-person contact as much as possible. Fox said volunteers can simply show up at the Legion on Thanksgiving Day between 10:30 a.m. and noon and deliver as few or as many meals as their schedules allow.
“We really want to emphasize that volunteers are needed for home deliveries only,” Fox said. They can bring a basket or box to make it easier to deliver the meals.”
This model complies with health and safety guidelines, and Fox is working on with Rice County Public Health to develop a way volunteers can retrieve the meals without leaving their vehicles.
“We’re working with health professionals that know the system and how to stay safe,” Fox said. “We’re going to inform volunteers as much as we all need to know, so we’re being as safe as the professionals are telling us — and they’re fine with the plan, and that’s the best part.”
For many students from low-income and/or immigrant families, distance learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic has proven a challenge. Now, the Faribault Diversity Coalition has set up a program to help them.
In coordination with the Faribault Public Schools, the FDC has launched “Learning Pod,” a free program for distance learners. With one-on-one assistance from certified teachers, students can get much needed help with their homework.
Currently, the program serves students in elementary and middle school. However, program coordinator Martha Schultz said that she’s working on making a similar program available for high schoolers.
With grant funding from the U.S. Department of Justice, the program will continue through the end of December. Faribault School Board member Carolyn Treadway, who secured the grant dollars, says she hopes more funding can be found to continue it into the new year.
“Distance learning is hard for all families, but particularly hard for families that may not be proficient in technology,” Treadway said. “We’re looking to support both distance learners and those who may be partially distance learning.”
Treadway’s other projects include helping to secure funding for winter clothing, school supplies and internet hotspots for students in need. She said that the idea for the “distance pods” is to lessen the opportunity gap between students in high- and low-income families.
“When we found how more affluent families are addressing the gap in distance learning (through tutors), we thought, why wouldn’t we try to provide that to other families locally?” she said.
Distance learning pods are currently offered two times a day on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at the FDC’s downtown office at 324 Central Ave N. The first shift is from 9:30 to 11:30 am with a second from noon to 2 p.m.. Free bus transportation is provided to and from the FDC.
The program isn’t yet full, but Schultz said that each class is limited to 10 students. That limit will likely stay even with the program set to get more room as nnon-perishable foods that have clogged the back since the Faribault Food Shelf closed are now set to be moved to a soon to open food shelf in town.
FDC Project Manager Peter van Sluis noted that Schultz goes to great lengths to keep the program safe for everyone involved. That includes a robust commitment to social distancing and mask wearing and wiping down surfaces regularly.
“We’re very much focused on small groups,” Schultz noted. “We’re ensuring we do everything we can to keep the kids safe.”
Without the assistance of qualified tutors, Schultz said that it’s too easy for students to fall behind, particularly if their family’s understanding of technology is limited. Fortunately, she said that tutors work closely with FPS teachers to make sure nothing is missed.
“We have a great partnership with the Faribault school district,” she said. “We’re communicating with teachers every day to ensure we’re on the same page.”
Faribault Public Schools English Language Coordinator Sambath Ouk has played a key role in the program. Ouk has been at the center of a variety of initiatives designed to help low-income students, including the distribution of hotspots to families who can’t afford internet access.
In his role as EL Coordinator, Ouk regularly surveys students from low-income and immigrant families and has referred several to the Learning Pod program. Still, he encouraged students who feel they could benefit from it to reach out to Schultz.
“I feel this will be a great help to our students who are doing distance learning but have difficulties getting the support they need at home,” he said.
Election day may still be a week away, but according to Rice County Property Tax and Elections Director Denise Anderson, nearly a third of the county’s registered voters have already cast their ballot.
Anderson said that as of Tuesday, roughly 16,800 ballots had been mailed to voters across the country. About 12,000 voters have already voted, either by mail or in person, out of a total registered voter pool of almost exactly 38,000 voters as of the August primary.
With the election drawing near absentee ballot requests have started to slow down, but in-person voting has picked up by the day. Anderson said that elections officials can now count on roughly 200 voters per day voting in person in both of the county’s early voting sites.
Rice County began processing absentee ballots Oct. 20, thanks to a law authored by Rep. Jeff Brand, D-St. Peter, that gives local election departments much longer tho count the votes. Officials will continue to count ballots received a week after the election, but they need to be postmarked by or on Nov. 3.
Residents who want to turn in their absentee ballots in person instead of mailing them can drop off their ballots at the Rice County Government Center at 320 Third St. NW, Faribault, until 3 p.m. Tuesday, or Northfield City Hall at 801 Washington St., Northfield until 5 p.m. Monday. Absentee ballots cannot be dropped off at polling locations on Election Day.
Residents who want to vote early in person can do so either at the Rice County Government Center or Northfield City Hall during normal business hours from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on or before Monday. Additional voting hours will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday and from 4:30 to 5 p.m. on Monday.
Rice County residents will be able to vote in person at their polling locations from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. Tuesday, unless they live in Richland Township or the portion of Dennison within Rice County. Those municipalities are operating their elections entirely by mail and have mailed a ballot to every registered voter.
Anderson said that as at the August primary election, rigorous measures will be in place to keep voters safe. At the early voting locations, individuals who want to cast an early vote will be greeted at the door and directed to the elections area. Circles pasted on floors will help voters follow social distancing protocol.
Voters are strongly encouraged, though not required, to bring a mask and pen of their own. If a voter doesn’t bring a pen of their own, the Property Tax and Elections Department can provide a pen, which will be sanitized after use.
On election Day, judges will receive rubber gloves, face masks, face shields and hand sanitizer. Judges who are primarily seated will be protected by a plexiglass shield, while those assisting with curbside voting will be given full gowns.
Each polling place will have a greeter at the entrance for crowd control. In addition to ensuring that proper social distancing procedures are followed, the greeter will be responsible for ensuring that the number of people in the polling place never reaches unsafe levels.
Residents can track their absentee ballot, see a sample ballot and find their polling location on Election Day on the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office website, sos.state.mn.us/elections-voting.
Anyone with questions can contact the Rice County Property Tax and Elections Office at 507-332-6104.