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The Ridgeview Medical Center in Le Sueur is in the process of creating a plan to resume elective surgeries under new guidance from the Minnesota Department of Heath. The postponement of elective surgeries and reduced in-patient care has led to a dramatic loss in revenues for hospitals across the state. (County News file photo)

Giant Celebration canceled amid COVID-19

Giant Celebration is one of the city of Le Sueur’s biggest summer gatherings, but this year the event was cancelled in the wake of health concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. (Le Sueur County News file photo)

One of Le Sueur’s largest summer festivals has been canceled.

On Wednesday, May 20, the Le Sueur Giant Celebration Committee announced that Giant Celebration and the kick off would not be held this year. The celebration was scheduled to begin on the first weekend of August in American Legion Park, but the committee wrote on Facebook that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival had to be canceled.

“Our highest priority is to keep our community members and visitors, both safe and healthy,” the Giant Celebration Committee wrote in a message to the community. “As we have been monitoring the states recommendations and regulations around COVID-19, we have made the very difficult decision and have decided to cancel Giant Celebration- Kick off as well as our Giant Celebration Weekend 2020.”

“We understand and acknowledge the disappointment that this will bring to our community and visitors, but we want to ensure that we are in a position to come back bigger, stronger and better than ever in 2021,” they continued.

Julie Boyland, Executive Director of the Le Sueur Chamber of Commerce, explained that the decision was made after the committee ran into a number of difficulties in planning.

“The decision to cancel Giant Celebration was a difficult one,” said Boyland. “Even though it seems that this decision was made too early, it takes quite a bit of time and coordination to get all the pieces of the Celebration in place. There were other factors that also played into this decision such as; neighboring towns already cancelled their celebrations, we had already received cancellations from marching bands due to the fact that they cannot gather to practice, approaching businesses for sponsorships during this unsettled economy, social distancing in crowds is difficult to enforce and finding volunteers to work in crowded situations. The most important thing is to keep our community safe and healthy.”

Giant Celebration has long been an important event for the Le Sueur Community, drawing in hundreds to partake in the fair’s many activities including a 5K fun run, the Giant Celebration parade, the Le Sueur Lions Club Classic Car Roll-In as well as an evening concert and fireworks.

The news was met disappointment from many in the Le Sueur community. The Giant Celebration Committee’s post on Facebook was shared 100 times within 24 hours. Reactions to the message were split; some praised the committee for their past work and keeping safety in mind while others criticized the cancellation.

This may not be the end for Giant Celebration though. No plans have yet been made, but the committee is looking into holding a smaller event this year if state guidance allows it.

“The Committee is looking at options for holding some sort of down-scaled version of Giant Celebration,” said Boyland. “No decisions have been made at this time but we will keep the community informed once a decision is made.”

With this year’s celebration canceled, the donations from sponsors and local businesses for the kick-off will instead be put toward the Giant Celebration Kick-Off in 2021. Despite the cancellation, Giant Celebration merchandise including Le Sueur Lager, t-shirts, hats and koozies are continuing to be sold.

“We know that Le Sueur is a strong community,” wrote the committee. “And we are confident that we will come back in 2021 stronger than ever, and we as a committee will strive to make it one of the best Giant Celebration events yet. We love all of our visitors and followers, and we appreciate all of your continued support, always, and especially during this time.”

Caribou Gun Club takes a shot at expanding despite business woes

At a time when businesses are losing revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic spreading around the world, Caribou Gun Club in Le Sueur is expanding.

The club opened a new $75,000 automated pistol shooting range May 1. Measured at 165 feet long, the covered building is open in the front for shooting.

“The guy that put it in said this is the biggest one he put in the whole United States,” Caribou owner Randy Voss said. “It’s a pretty nice deal. It’s all automated targets built out of Texas.”

Although the state rules limit it to 10 people now, Caribou has 32 lanes: nine paper and 23 Big Boy Automated Targets. It has two different sets of targets. One side they shoot at paper targets where they sight their pistols. The other side are a variety of 10 automated moving targets. When shot down, it stands back up.

“It’s really cool stuff,” Voss said.

Working on the project about a year, Voss said it has a nice safe high mound to block the bullets. Voss said he added the pistol range to get more people with hand guns interested in trying the club.

“My rifle range was getting busy, and I wanted to get my pistol people off the range,” Voss said. “I wanted to split them up.”

There are three separate memberships: one for the pistol range, one the rifle range and one the hunting range. Pistols are not available to be rented. Only 12-gauge shotguns can be rented.

Struggling through

Even though Caribou is expanding, that doesn’t mean business isn’t down. Since the pandemic started in March, Voss estimates that the club has lost $80,000 to $100,000 in revenue.

According to the state guidelines for social distancing, including a maximum of 10 people in groups, Voss said, “I can’t have my banquet hall open. It seats 350 people. All that stuff got canceled. I’ve already lost eight events, all corporate stuff, because we do food and banquets. So all we can really do is shoot sporting clays and trap, skeet and rifle and pistol range. And I watch how many people I put at the rifle range. I try to keep it 10 and under.”

When people come in to sign in to shoot, Voss said he gets everybody out of the pro shop right away.

“If I get busy, I put my sign up table outside and make one person come in and pay,” Voss said. “Some people pay by credit card or over the phone while they’re sitting in the parking lot. Like for sporting clays, a lot of them buy a blue card for a thousand shots at time, and they can just go out there.”

As for future events, Voss said, “We don’t know. Everything is at a standstill. I have a lot of stuff booked for the fall. My weddings don’t start till August. I have a Mud Girls Run (breast cancer charity fundraiser) Aug. 15, really my first thing I have out here. Everything is canceled from March 15 till now. Even this fall, ordering birds for my hunting preserve, I don’t know how many birds to order. Nobody knows what’s going to go on.”

Like many others, Voss said he has lost a lot of business.

“I’m like all the restaurants and bars,” Voss said. “I can’t be open. It’s a sad state of affairs with what’s going on in the whole country. Everybody is hurting with all small business. It’s killing us. I just hope to keep my head above water. Then they shut all this school trap shooting down.”

Voss said he lost $20,000 just from the high schools who practice trap shooting at the course. Plus he lost eight events from $4,000 to $9,000 per event.

The Le Sueur-Henderson High School trap team, however, scheduled a delayed, shortened season. The three other schools that shoot at Caribou — St. Peter, Cleveland and Belle Plaine — didn’t come back.

Caribou, founded in 1953 by Voss’ dad, Earl, also usually has a high school tournament every year, and that’s been canceled because large groups are not allowed.

“I’m not the only guy feeling the crunch,” Voss said. “It definitely took its toll. At least I’ve got the shooting part to fall back on, and I’m seeing a little bit more traffic with the rifle range. People want to get out and have things to do, like fishing.”

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz can’t be claimed to have a bias against the business, as he “actually shoots out here,” Voss said. “He was here last fall. He likes to shoot.”

The business hopes to open up and show off the new pistol range, as regulations allow.

Flame Bar won the St. Peter sand championship in 2019. (Photo courtesy of Joey Schugel)

TCU’s graduating class will have a virtual commencement this year, due to COVID-19, but the district has tentative plans for an in-person cap toss July 31. Pictured, the TCU class of 2019 tossed their caps in the air in the TCU High School auditorium last year. (News file photo)

With more time at home, domestic violence incidents increase

Local advocates say that Minnesota’s stay-at-home order to prevent the spread of COVID-19 is leaving domestic violence victims with fewer options to escape abusive situations, and in many cases, worsening the abuse.

Erica Staab-Absher, executive director of Faribault-based HOPE Center, says abuse victims have told her the restrictions have left them unable to get away from their abuser or that they’ve faced repercussions for calling police. For some, these incidents are ramping up anxiety and/or bringing back past trauma.

The stay-at-home orders mean victims are subjected to their abusers for longer periods of time than before because they are unable to leave except to take care of essential tasks. Children who are being abused are dealing with similar problems. Needed breaks from the home to attend school and other activities have been canceled. Money abuse victims could have secretly stashed to make an escape is now needed for other expenses, because few jobs are completely safe from the economic fallout the coronavirus has brought.

Research has shown one in four adult women and one in seven adult men in America have experienced severe violence — including being hit with something hard, kicked or beaten, or burned on purpose – at the hands of an intimate partner.

Add in high unemployment rates, and that can prove even more detrimental because of stress and anxiety. Because isolation is a tool abusers use to control their victims, leaving them without support from faith communities, friends and others, the Stay at Home order makes life even more challenging for victims of abuse.

When people feel powerless in one area of their lives, they often seek to establish more power in other areas. This is particularly dangerous in domestic violence situations, because domestic abuse is, at its core, an effort by one partner to dominate and establish psychological, emotional, physical and sexual control over the other person.

Another aspect of the coronavirus pandemic is also worsening the situation: Domestic-violence hotlines are reporting calls from victims whose abusers won’t let them leave the house because they might catch the disease, and are threatening to lock them out if they do leave.

These impacts are being felt worldwide. Early reports from China show at least a tripling of domestic violence, and Europe and the U.K. are reporting surges in domestic violence calls.

Local impact

It’s also being felt locally. Police in Le Sueur County, and individual communities like Le Sueur and St. Peter, have noticed that isolation has led to an upswing in domestic violence calls along with mental health crisis reports and threats of suicide.

“I can tell you that our domestics have increased and that’s to be expected.” said Le Sueur County Sheriff Brett Mason. “I can tell you that our suspicious activity reports have increased tenfold, the reasoning being that people are at home, of course, and the other being that people are getting stir-crazy and they’re going for drives and they’re ending up in places they wouldn’t ordinarily end up in.”

Police around the country are adapting their domestic violence response plans to prepare for the expected increases and to ensure victims can get help even with restrictions on public movement.

“It is kind of a toxic mess,” Staab-Absher said.

To help those in need, HOPE Center has contacted mental health counselors or helped clients in-house. HOPE Center, which serves all of Rice County, seeks to eliminate sexual and domestic violence through healing, outreach, prevention and education. The center also collaborates with other shelters or safe housing sources so victims can have a safe place to stay until a longer-term solution is available.

“We’ve been doing a lot of that kind of support as well,” Staab-Absher said.

Rice County Social Services Director Mark Shaw said he’s noticed an increase in child protection reports since the stay-at-home order has been issued, a fact he attributes to people being in close proximity to each other while anxiety and tensions run high.

“Sad as we are to see it, I don’t think we are completely surprised by it,” he said.

Rice County Social Services staff are still doing face-to-face investigations when there is a concern over imminent risk to a child. Although the department continues to work with the HOPE Center, Shaw noted some counseling and therapy avenues are harder to access during this time due to social distancing measures. Although teleconferencing is a worthy communication tool, Shaw said it’s easier establish relationships in person.

Chris Davis, Rice County Child and Family Services Unit supervisor, said the number of reports the department is responding to is also higher than usual. She added school staff members in Rice County are checking in more to ensure student well-being, and families are being provided more resources to promote healthy family dynamics.

Grant funding, community support are helping

Some additional funding has helped HOPE Center meet the needs of those they serve. The organization recently received a $6,000 grant from Heading Home, a statewide organization seeking to provide safe, affordable and stable housing.

The federal government’s $2 trillion CARES Act included assistance for nonprofits that provide support for domestic violence victims, letting them apply for business loans and help meeting payroll.

Democratic U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota and a group of 11 Democratic colleagues, and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vermont, on Friday urged the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to ensure that immigrant survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and other serious crimes can continue to access programs during the pandemic, through which they can obtain legal status independent of abusers and perpetrators.

“Isolation, economic uncertainty, and anxiety about the spread of the virus have added new stress for many families, which in turn can increase the risk of domestic violence,” the senators wrote in a letter to Kenneth Cucinelli, who’s overseeing Citizenship and Immigration Services. “Immigrants — who often face language barriers, are separated from friends and family, or may not be aware of protections available under U.S. law — can be particularly vulnerable to domestic violence. Additionally, during this pandemic they face increased barriers to accessing legal services and advocacy support. These vulnerabilities are compounded when a person’s immigration status is linked to an abusive partner.”

Staab-Absher said people continue to reach out to HOPE Center, offering help and are sometimes using telehealth services, an approach victims sometimes are more comfortable with. Staab-Absher noted for some clients, especially those with traumatic childhoods, the current situation is made a little easier because of their ability to adapt to chaos and uncertainty.

Safe haven

Sometimes domestic violence victims seek out the HOPE Center because they are undocumented immigrants, have an unfavorable history with Child Protection Services or law enforcement agencies, or are unsure whether the abuse they suffer is criminal. Sometimes they want to talk through options before deciding how to proceed.

The financial dynamics of the unhealthy relationship can also make it difficult for the victim, especially if the abuser controls the finances.

Staab-Absher spoke highly of how well local law enforcement has worked with HOPE Center during this time. She urged victims who might believe law enforcement agencies have more important calls to respond to understand that police officers are committed to helping domestic violence victims.

She stressed that HOPE Center services are free and confidential and can also be tailored to help abusers overcome their unhealthy behavior. Staab-Absher said there is help available for abusers, including therapists and sometimes court-mandated approaches, but added abusers need to want to change to do so.

Abusers who are in treatment for domestic violence or otherwise are trying to get a handle on their problems may also have difficulty because their support options – like attending a counseling meeting, seeing or talking with their therapist, or leaving the house to visit with a friend or work out – are more limited now.

The United Way of Steele County advises victims of domestic violence to stay connected with friends and family through email, text messaging, phone calls or other means to boost mental and emotional health and ensure safety.

“It is especially important to stay in touch with loved ones while you are at home with an abusive partner,” according to a press release. “Check in with them every day to let them know you are OK. Make sure they know how to reach you in an emergency. You may also want to develop a code word or phrase that indicates you are in danger, so they discreetly know when to send help.”