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carter quam

Kenyon-Wanamingo junior Carter Quam grapples with ACGC’s Logan Sherwood Feb. 28 at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. (News file photo)

Communities work together, offer a hand those in need amid closures, restrictions

Across the state, events are being postponed, schools have closed their doors and many businesses are implementing restrictions, following an executive order from Gov. Tim Walz’s office to temporarily close schools, restaurants, bars, gyms and other gathering places.

Amid all the closures and restrictions, communities like Kenyon and Wanamingo are working together to support those in need.

Backing the food shelf

Lindsey Fulton, owner of Blondie’s Butcher Shop in Wanamingo and once a paramedic, considers herself “very well” trained in crisis management. In particular, situations created from the COVID-19 outbreak brought her feelings of concern, only not for herself but for those who may be at high risk.

Fulton has offered her help and resources at the meat market to back the All Seasons Food Shelf in Kenyon and take care of those who need it. She began by reaching out to Kenyon-Wanamingo Schools Social Worker Carrie Groth and All Seasons Food Shelf Director Bev Jacobsen, to focus on specific demographics of people that will struggle with food for the week and see what they may need.

“I knew right off the bat, the biggest focal point of this virus is a majority of those who volunteer at the food shelf,” Fulton said. “They’ve kind of got a team backed up to go over one and two at a time to get orders placed.”

Jacobsen said when she made the decision to lock their doors to all in-store shopping beginning March 16, she knew her volunteers would be relieved something was being done to limit their exposure.

Now clients are instructed to call and notify volunteers of their desired items and from there, volunteers fill their orders, put the items in a bag and label the bag with the client’s name. Then the bag is placed on the porch until the client comes to pick it up. Jacobsen said new clients are encouraged to call in, adding applications can be taken over the phone. For those willing to donate items, Jacobsen said to call the food shelf first for specific guidance. Fulton also suggested dropping the items off at Blondie’s Butcher Shop or the Kenyon Police Department.

Ironically, Fulton said several weeks before the COVID-19 outbreak in Minnesota, several farmers donated a hog or heifer to the food shelf. What the food shelf can’t handle in their freezers, Fulton stores in her coolers at her meat market. Something Fulton says is “cool” to note about the smaller, rural areas like Wanamingo is that she has had people call and cancel their orders in hopes to give others the opportunity to place an order because they have enough meat to last themselves a little bit longer.

Fulton has helped out “tremendously” at the food shelf, said Jacobsen, especially through absorbing the processing charge completely when farmers donate a pig or part of a cow to the food shelf.

“That’s such a gift to us,” said Jacobsen on Fulton’s effort. “We’ve [also] had an individual who has donated turkeys, which we can donate to larger families. We’ve really been blessed this year, we have lots of fresh fruit and vegetables too.”

“It’s really been a community effort,” Fulton said. “We don’t have to depend on the middle man for meat, we can do our own thing. We are just trying to be prepared with the staples, like bread, butter and eggs, and taking care of those we know are going to need it. I hope no one’s pride gets in the way and they reach out.”

Fulton also encourages everyone to reach out to their elderly neighbors to make sure they don’t need anything, like medications and most importantly just to make sure they are okay. She plans to start getting a list of people who are willing to drive to “so and so’s” house to drop off items at front doors and make donations to the local food shelves. At the moment, Fulton said she has a lot of donated meat available for elderly in need. She predicts things to change a little bit more once people settle their schedules.

“I think it’ll pick up and people will call in to book beef, we’ll stay going, it might be limited at some point,” Fulton said. “We’ve taken precautions big box markets can’t. I’m shocked at how stocked we are [right now], the suppliers have got our back. I’m confident this will pass, it’s just a matter of when.”

Jacobsen also reminds everyone to remember their older neighbors and give them a call, because they are having a “really tough” time.

Kenyon Police Chief Lee Sjolander said in the areas of Kenyon and Wanamingo, people are “kind and considerate,” especially in terms of the KPD Food Pantry located just inside of the front door.

“We are just real consciousness people when it comes to helping out,” Sjolander said. “Grocery stores are stocked, city staff is excellent in making sure we have needed supplies and in the food pantry out front, people aren’t cleaning us out.”

Local restaurants offer a hand

Even though restaurants like the Kenyon Bar and Grill and JB’s Tavern in Wanamingo have halted their dine-in services and made the transition to a takeout only establishment, they are still offered a helping hand to the community. Both the Grill and Tavern, along with Che Che’s Lunchera in Kenyon have been offering free lunches for school-aged children, following the closures of schools from March 18-27.

Although each establishment is offering its own lunch special for children, for the three businesses giving back to communities, who have helped them is something worth taking part in.

Over at JB’s Tavern, the decision to provide a free grilled cheese sandwich and chips for school-aged children in need of lunch, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, came in a discussion between the owners, Erik Fox and Angie Anderson. Fox said they figured they would help those in need.

“Times are tough,” said Fox in regards to JB’s closure. “We appreciate your continued support and hope we get through this.”

Che Che’s Lunchera has been offering free lunches for school-age children in need from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m Monday through Friday. From the start, they were offering two beef soft shell tacos and are now working on breakfast burritos, corn dogs and chips and beef burritos from March 23-27 for all children. Melissa Nunez, who owns the family-run business with her husband, said they’d rather see children eat and have full stomachs over anything else.

“We saw that JB’s Tavern was doing something, so I thought about doing something too,” Nunez said. “We want to give back to the community, donations are welcome but not necessary. We’d just like people to pay it forward someday.”

Also catching onto the trend of helping out the community in anyway they can is The Kenyon Bar and Grill. Owner Alex Rivero said, “thanks to the generosity and help from his family, especially his younger brother Santos Rivero,” they have been able to prepare 300-400 sack lunches every day since Thursday to take to different drop off locations for children in need at all three of his establishments in Kenyon, St. Paul and West St. Paul.

“I’ll help out any way I can, especially for a community that’s embraced me tremendously, so why not give back to [them],” Rivero said.

Kenyon resident Karma Baumgartner, added knowing people are coming together to help serves as a “comfort” for people in town, especially knowing takeout options are available at places such as the Kenyon Bar and Grill.

K-W School District has also been offering free lunches to school-aged children upon registration for pick up at the school or through delivery.

Helpful ideas to keep children active, learning while school's out

Across the globe, the COVID-19 outbreak has created unique circumstances for many.

In southern Minnesota, many parents/caregivers have keened in on their creative thinking to form ideas and activities to keep their children active and educated, while online learning sources are developed by school districts. Many districts in the area have taken the time off from school closures to develop a plan for Distance Learning/E-Learning, which will also be shared with families to provide children with essential education normally received during school. Activities parents/caregivers are taking part in with their children range from spending time outdoors, playing games, planting seeds, cooking and brushing up on their reading skills.

Mark Traxler, Le Sueur County Human Services psychologist suggests that while it may be difficult, parents/caregivers should maintain structure and routine, because children are more successful in a structured environment.

“Maintain a normal sleep/wake cycle,” said Traxler. “Avoid ‘binge watching’ TV and video, [because] that builds up unspent energy and ‘cabin fever.’”

Some other things Traxler suggests is for parents/caregivers to enlist the child’s help in the kitchen making supper, play family board games and take trips to the park to walk the family dog.

In the local areas of Faribault, Kenyon and Wanamingo, many families have taken part in many activities with their children and have used their time wisely. The common thread of many of those activities revolve around the great outdoors.

Endless options of fun

In Faribault, Tara Kay Luettel says her and her children have gone for a lot of walks, bike rides and spent a lot of time outside. Her children were especially excited to find a small amount of snow to play in several days ago. Michelle Boudreau and her four-year-old have enjoyed their time exploring River Bend Nature Center.

“Being outdoors is important for fresh air at this time,” said Boudreau. “I make up a list of things for my son to find on our walk! [It’s] peaceful, beautiful, and educational!”

Parks and Recreation Director Paul Peanasky encourages the public be involved in some type of fitness and being outside is a safe way to do that, as long as everyone is keeping a safe distance away from each other, of course.

Andrea Salveson said, “We will be planting lavender and a cactus from seeds from a grow kit, doing printable worksheets, Raz kids reading app, and when it’s nice out, taking some walks.”

Indoor planting is another common activity parents like Nina Munson-Vanvalkenburg are doing.

For Brielle Bauer, working with Nerstrand Schools last year and now working in healthcare has helped her realize what consequences are occurring due to the COIVD-19 outbreak.

“Use this time to keep as much structure as possible in your child’s life,” said Bauer in a Facebook post to the Kenyon community. “Keep their brains working as much as possible as this will be a huge disruption to their retention, creative thinking and overall well-being.”

Bauer also included a list of her own ideas to help keep children active and educated:

1. Draw a picture or write a letter to your local nursing home residents — they too are feeling a great impact over this virus as no visitors are allowed.

2. Read books — imaginary places can take your mind off of seriousness if only for a minute.

3. Bake cookies, cakes, etc. — following step by step directions can be very rewarding and yummy in the end.

4. Seek out learning websites — many websites are offering free services during time of crisis, keep their brains working with science experiments, reading, math.

5. Take this time to ensure they are getting fresh air and exercise — walk your furry friend, play a game of basketball in the driveway. It’s important that they have a way to get out their energy from being cooped up.

6. Watch educational movies, TV shows — during downtime this is important so they don’t lose consistency of being in school.

7. Create a schedule — without consistency they will get restless, you can even include time for chores, but always make sure you give them a little time to rest and do what they want during the day.

8. Lend a helping hand to a neighbor — get their groceries, walk their dog, babysit their children during the time off, but no matter what please don’t forget your elderly neighbors. They are most at risk and are probably afraid to go out.

Traxler confirms it’s also important for parents/caregivers to educate themselves about safety measures and preventative care of COVID-19, which include stress reduction, exercise, fresh air and good nutrition.

River Bend Nature Center Naturalist Outreach Program Coordinator Molly Olson recommends several ideas for people to enjoy their time outside like going out and taking a hike, going to a new state park they haven’t been to or their going to their local nature center like River Bend, adding that it’s a “great” way to relax.

An app, iNaturalists, is a fun tool that can be used to record what species — plants or animals — are in a certain area, says Olson. Since it’s spring migration for many birds, Olson says now is a “great” time to learn to identify birds using either binoculars and a field guide, or downloading the Merlin Bird app, similar to the iNaturalists app. Reading different nature-themed books like “Nature Fix” by Florence Williams, food-based books by Michael Poulin and “Locally Laid” by Lucie Amundsen, is another way for people to connect with the natural world, suggests Olson. Fun activities that require children to take a closer look at nature, like laying down a hula hoop or rope on the ground, and having children get close down to the ground and see what bugs are in that specific space and feeling what the soil is like are some more of Olson’s recommendations.

Some libraries, like the Kenyon Public Library are still offering curbside services, where materials can be requested online and delivered to your vehicle at the library.

K-W Schools closer to distance learning plan as March 30 approaches

Since March 18, the halls, classrooms and parking lots at Kenyon-Wanamingo Schools have been “eerily” quiet as members of the staff work to develop long-term plans for distance learning, expecting school closures to extend well beyond March.

On March 15, Gov. Tim Walz ordered public schools to temporarily close until March 27, to give administrators and teachers time to make plans for switching to distance learning as the number of COVID-19 cases rises.

Superintendent David Thompson says Laura McAnally, instructional coach and interventionist for K-W Schools has been putting together technological training for staff to “best support students.” At K-W, McAnally helps teachers teach students in the “best way possible,” whether it be through a new reading strategy or sending out a YouTube video to staff on how to troubleshoot a technical issue.

Thompson says staff are “teleconferencing” to ensure social distancing throughout the district. Several COVID-19 presentations have been made to the staff, and technology tips from McAnally have been shared on how to communicate with students and parents in the most efficient way. With a specific feature on Google, called “Google Classroom” files can be shared between students and teachers, as a way to simplify the creation, distribution and grading of assignments in a paperless way. Last week, staff learned how to invite coworkers, students and parents to their virtual classroom, as well as other necessities like the benefits, grades, settings, how students can turn things in, how to send messages to students and communicating their intent on how they may use it for their specific class.

Even with the challenges and changes, Thompson is confident the district will be even stronger through the collaboration with each other, the increase of technology skills and the teamwork showed by staff in developing lessons.

“I am much more concerned about connecting with the students, rather than the content they are provided with,” said Thompson of the distance learning plans. “We really need to focus on the connections and compassion with the students … and take care of the mental health of everyone.”

K-6 Principal Katy Schuerman agreed, saying at the March 23 K-W School Board meeting, “We have a lot of sad kids and a lot of sad teachers. We are focusing on relationships with students as much as possible while we continue to move the learning needle forward.”

On the elementary level, Schuerman says staff are working more with the parents and developing content that children can do themselves, so it doesn’t create a reliance on parents. They are working slowly into it and being sure to give parents options. This week, staff are focusing on getting Chromebooks and materials in the hands of those that need it, in preparation for March 30, the first day of distance learning.

“There is an excitement in teachers as they’re rallying around how to bring quality in learning in a different platform,” said Schuerman. “They are energized.”

7-12 Principal Matt Ryan says on the high school level, students are expected to use their own devices for distance learning, however there are loaner devices available for students in the library. Since Google Classrooms is something students are used to, Ryan doesn’t expect any concerns.

“We will all be better educators because of this situation, a lot of growth has happened,” said Ryan at the board meeting. “As teachers continue to plan for distance learning days … We will continue to focus on relationships and connections with students.”

Last week, Schuerman says staff focused on scheduling free meals for school-aged children and free childcare for healthcare workers and other emergency providers, as well as communicating to families about the current circumstances.

As the coronavirus outbreak continues to be prominent through the world, country and state of Minnesota, Le Sueur County psychologist Mark Traxler suggests parents keep their conversations about the coronavirus with children age appropriate to keep them informed. (Metro Creative Images)

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