With help from a group of Bethlehem Academy students, a local animal shelter is preparing to hold a COVID-19 friendly Easter event it hopes will bring joy to hundreds of children.
Rescue 55021 encourages local families to mark their calendars for a drive-thru “Easter Egg Handout” at Paddington’s Feed and Seed Saturday, April 3. Animal shelter Director Theresa Vold first organized the free event last year as a way to safely lift the spirits of a COVID-wracked community.
The event was a hit, drawing in large crowds and increasing awareness of the region’s newest animal shelter. The event included a free-will offering which collected about $360, providing a crucial boost for an organization unable to hold traditional fundraisers. With the spirits of many Americans flagging and others having more time at home, interest in adopting a pet soared in 2020. Yet the year was difficult financially for animal shelters like Rescue 55021. Like many nonprofits it saw expenses rise and revenue fall.
While Rescue 55021 has other basic expenses, the cost of preparing an animal for adoption is perhaps the most significant. Vold has said that without a grant from the city of Faribault, Rescue 55021 might have had to close its doors entirely. The shelter has managed to get back on its feet financially, and the social atmosphere Vold envisioned is starting to return as well, as more people are vaccinated and able to return.
The shelter also continued to raise its profile in the community with COVID friendly events. A Halloween Trunk or Treat was styled after the Easter Egg Handout and brought in close to 1,000 kids, along with more donations.
Similarly, the animal shelter partnered with local vendors during the holiday season to offer stocking stuffers to go with its animals in need. Now, it’s time for the Easter Egg Handout again and Vold expects this year’s edition to be two or three times the size of its predecessor.
Even though this year’s event will be much larger, Vold herself has had to do significantly less work. While she and a close-knit circle of volunteers assembled nearly all of the bags last year. This year they have had help from a group of eight Bethlehem Academy students.
Students were assigned to fulfill volunteer hours for a theology class, based on their interests as indicated in a class survey. Other groups from the school have been assigned to volunteer at nonprofits like IRIS and Divine Mercy Catholic School.
BA student Carson Heselton said he has particularly appreciated the relaxed and friendly atmosphere, complete with animals wandering the premises. While Heselton and his peers only get an hour at the shelter, he said it makes for a welcome respite in an otherwise hectic school day.
“You really make bonds with the cats We’ve come to love them,” said fellow student Ashley Rost.
Altogether, the group has assembled about 900 bags for the Easter Egg Handout and have another 100 or 200 to go. They’ve been helped out seniors at Faribault’s New Perspective Senior Living, who were asked to fill 250 easter eggs and completed close to 700.
“We’re hoping not to come away with too many (leftover) bags,” Vold said.
Basic Blessings Backpack has fed students who may not have food over the weekends since 2010, and while the program came to a halt during the pandemic, the effort will resume in the fall with a new partnership.
When the program is active, Basic Blessings provides meals for 150 to 180 children every weekend, according to co-founder Becca Gramse of MRG Tool and Die. During the pandemic, Faribault Public Schools instead met the needs of these students with a seven-day meal program.
Reliance Bank has housed the food for Basic Blessings since the program’s inception, but starting this year, Community Action Center Faribault will instead reserve space for the meal components.
“We just started the discussion,” Gramse said. “We agreed to move the packing and everything to their location. They also have a van for delivery, which will assist us, but the nitty gritty details aren’t figured out yet.”
Community Action Center Faribault, previously known as the Faribault Food Access Initiative, is still in its beginning stages. The food shelf began mobile distributions in November, but shelf browsing will kick off this summer.
Steph Helkenn, coordinator of CAC Faribault, said the architectural design for the food shelf is complete, the contractor is working on the plan, and construction will start in the next couple of weeks. Helkenn hopes for a June opening for the choice model food shelf, but she was told July or August is more likely.
“Reliance Bank and Becca and the volunteers and team are integral to the success of it, so it’s more of a collaborative partnership than us [at the CAC] sort of driving it,” Helkenn said. “… We’re excited to source that food with that input.”
Once the program resumes, Helkenn said Basic Blessings will need plenty of volunteers as it did in the past. Gramse and Reliance Bank will recruit those volunteers, who previously came from school organizations, classrooms, community/church groups, families, and even a few businesses.
Basic Blessings usually starts after the first set of school conferences, she said, which gives school social workers time to identify who may benefit from the program.
According to data from Minnesota Report Card, nearly 2,000, or 59% of Faribault Public Schools students, receive free or reduced-priced lunches this year. Statewide, 32% of students meet that same criteria.
Volunteers for Basic Blessings package however many meals the schools request and deliver the large plastic baggies to the schools once a week. Social workers line up volunteers to put the meals in students’ backpacks, freeing families from needing to pick up the meals themselves.
“There are a lot of programs around the state and the nation that are similarly focused [on food security for students],” Gramse said. “They’re all trying to keep foods that any age student can prepare on their own: granola bars, cereal cups, apple sauces, fruit cups, microwavable meals.”
Donations to Basic Blessings, until this year, have gone directly to the weekend meal packs for students. A small amount goes to resources used to distribute the food, Gramse said.
Basic Blessings has held fundraisers throughout the years and ordered food products from Channel One Regional Food Bank in Rochester and elsewhere. Donations from Post Consumer Brands and Faribault Foods also impact the program.
Recently, CCF Bank in Faribault donated $280 to Basic Blessings, the local organization selected for the company’s annual fundraiser. Roxanne Hill of CCF Bank explained that employees who contribute to the local cause earn the right to wear jeans to work on Fridays.
“It’s our hope that we’ll be able to be involved with them going forward and volunteering some time with them,” Hill said.
Helkenn said she is excited to be a part of an initiative that has already done so much for the community before the implementation of Faribault CAC.
“There’s such good work going on in Faribault,” said Helkenn, who lives in Northfield. “The more I’m here, the more I’m impressed with the things already in existence.”