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Waseca senior Brooke Hayes returns a backhand Monday against St. Peter at Waseca High School. Hayes won 6-3, 6-4 at No. 4 singles for one of the two Bluejays wins in a 5-2 loss. (Nick Gerhardt/Waseca County News)


News
spotlight
Nonprofits in Waseca County continue to serve despite decline in income

Nonprofits are in need of help due to the effects of COVID-19.

COVID-19 has affected numerous industries with nonprofits among the hurting. All have struggled adjusting to changes through the pandemic and for nonprofits, donations were among the biggest hit.

“Based on a small survey, 80 percent of nonprofits were down 50 percent or more of their budgeted income,” Waseca Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Ann Fitch said of a survey done earlier this summer. “That’s pretty significant. Nonprofits obviously rely on donations, memberships or events and if you can’t have an event you can’t raise money.”

The pandemic kept some nonprofits closed for more than two months, while some still have not yet reopened, affecting donations and the ability to serve the communities in the area.

The Waseca Neighborhood Service Center is an example of one of the nonprofit organizations that has yet to open since March, due to COVID-19. The Waseca Food Shelf kept its doors open during the pandemic by going to appointments only with 30-minute slots for people. The Janesville Community Food Shelf and the Area Food Shelf of New Richland are open again as well.

In Janesville, the food shelf is open Tuesdays 10 a.m. to noon. The New Richland Food Shelf is open the first and third Tuesday of the month from 1 to 6 p.m. or by appointment.

“We’ve seen a decrease in people especially, since the stimulus checks went out,” Waseca Food Shelf Coordinator Niki Schaffer said. “There’s still our regulars that come, but we really have not seen an increase in people and I thought it would be the other way around.”

Schaffer said the Waseca Food Shelf received more food and monetary donations during COVID-19, even with the Neighborhood Service Center closed and not contributing to the food shelf as usual. Since the start of COVID-19 the food shelf has received multiple grants to help with food and operations as well as.

The food shelf received a grant for $3,000 from the Mankato Area United Way and the Neighborhood Service Center received a grant of $3,000 from the City of Waseca and Waseca County combined. The Neighborhood Service Center profits generally help pay for operation costs at the food shelf, so the grant from the city and county will be partially used toward the food shelf.

“It’s (food shelf) very important because food insecurity happens a lot more than you think,” Schaffer said. “Behind closed doors you don’t know the families that are struggling and the kids and the elderly need to eat and those are the two groups we take care of the most.”

At the Janesville Food Shelf community members can stop in during open hours and shop with their mask on, if they don’t want to go in, they can call ahead and have the food boxed up to pick up or if they want to participate in the truck-to-trunk program they must sign up ahead of time due to limited supplies.

“Inside we have really slowed down,” Kay Gottschalk with the Janesville Food Shelf said. “People are still afraid of coming in, but we will do pre-packed boxes and drop them in their trunk if that works best for them or if they want to call and shop they can do that or with a mask shop for themselves whatever their comfort level is.”

The Art Center is also open again, but with limited hours of Thursdays and Fridays, noon to 7 p.m. The Art Center moved one of the gallery displays to the window so more people can enjoy it. Some of the galleries will be shown virtually online as well as in person.

These nonprofit services rely on grants and on donations, but COVID-19 has made it tougher to ask for donations or collect donations.

“I was very happy that the county COVID-19 relief included nonprofits of all kinds,” Fitch said. “I think about the Neighborhood Service Center and the food shelf and there’s those service-oriented nonprofits and the cultural nonprofits and enrichment places that also couldn’t have people come into their spaces and it’s harder to collect donations that they rely on. It’s hard to ask people for money when they’re struggling.”

Art Center Executive Director Andrew Breck said he has taken a cut in his hours to help with expenses as well as being frugal with funds.

“We’re really looking for grants and donations to help us through this time,” Breck said. “Luckily, we have great membership and overall our membership donations are up. I think people appreciate what we are doing and see the effect we have on the community.”

But new memberships and walk-in donations have slowed.

“Unfortunately we aren’t getting walk-in donations or new memberships right now with everything that is going on and we’re trying to do the best we can under the circumstances,” Breck said. “And really just trying to push forward and stay an integral part of the community as best we can and as safe as we can.”

Last week, the Art Center offered a summer art camp for kids.

“At summer camp the kids were just so excited to be near other kids and have fun outside and have the experience of summer and experience of being a kid that was really awesome to see.

These nonprofits were eligible to for Personal Protective Equipment, PPE, loans that helped many in the county.

The Chamber of Commerce is a resource for many businesses and nonprofits in the Waseca area, but it is also a nonprofit itself. The chamber is a 501 © 6 nonprofit and was not eligible for the PPE loans.

According to Fitch Waseca has not lost a nonprofit organization to COVID-19.

“Nonprofits enrich a community,” Fitch said. “Whether it’s cultural, an athletic booster club or helping serve an underserved community. Nonprofits are necessary in a community to make it whole.”


News
spotlight
Waseca to start in hybrid learning model

COVID-19 has forced school districts to reevaluate how to teach students and keep them safe at the same time. At the Aug. 20 Waseca Public School Board meeting, the board adopted a hybrid learning model status yellow for K-12 to begin the new school year in a six to one vote, with Edita Mansfield casting the nay vote.

Governor Tim Walz announced at the end of July that school districts can choose a model, out of five options, that works best for its school.

The five options were; in-person learning for all, in-person learning for elementary students and hybrid learning for secondary students, hybrid learning for all students, hybrid learning for elementary students and distance learning for secondary students, and distance learning.

“Our principals are doing an amazing job and all of our staff because all of the work they are putting in already before they are supposed to be back at work to prepare has already been impressive,” Waseca Public Schools Superintendent Eric Hudspith said. “So I feel like we are ready for our kids.”

The hybrid learning model yellow has all grades distance learning on Mondays.

Waseca School District created and organized the five models with names and colors to keep information clear. The full chart is on the Waseca Public Schools website.

Kindergarten

Hybrid learning model yellow stipulates that kindergarten will attend school in person Tuesdays through Fridays. These students will stay with their classroom teacher for the entire day. Waseca chose the model because the class sizes are small enough and the classrooms are large enough to accommodate the students at 50 percent capacity four days a week, according to Hudspith.

First-third grade

First, second and third grade will attend school Tuesdays through Fridays as well in A and B groups in a hybrid learning model. Two days students will be with their classroom teachers and two days students will be on campus distance learning with a different teacher.

Kindergarten through second grade will continue to be housed in Hartley Elementary school while third grade is moved to the Central Building to allow for more space.

“We have enough classrooms and we have enough technology and we do use that building for learning and School Age Care so it’s set up for learning with some modifications,” Hudspith said at the meeting. “Our third-graders could be there.”

Fourth-12th grade and ALC

Fourth through 12th grade, along with the Alternative Learning Center students, will attend school in A and B groups in the hybrid model.

The A group attends school on Tuesdays and Wednesdays with distance learning on Thursdays and Fridays. The B group will distance learn on Tuesdays and Wednesdays while attending in person school on Thursdays and Fridays.

Each school principal will create a procedure of how students move through the buildings and how often. Principals will also decide how their building holds lunch and other specific building protocols. Information is expected to be sent to families and students by next week.

The school district hopes to have the A and B groups determined next week. The groups are dependent on what schedule the students select, which will be finalized next week.

Each family can decide if they want to send their student back for the hybrid learning or if they want to distance learn full time. Families can switch models but the school requests that the change take place at the end of a trimester when grading happens, though it’ll be addressed on a case by case basis if there is need for an immediate change.

“First of all I think we all realize that this is a very difficult decision and I think we all realize there is not a perfect solution here and there are pros and cons to each model,” “I was thinking about this this afternoon and some thoughts that crossed my mind,” School Board member Dave Dunn said. “No matter what is decided some will be happy and some will not, but I feel a lot of good, smart, people have worked on this all summer long and we need to trust their judgement. I think where we are proposing to start is a good place to start but be ready for that C-word, which is change.”

Additional support

Paraprofessionals and other support staff will assist with distance learning with students. Hudspith said that teachers can’t be in two places at once so other staff will help with the students at home distance learning or on campus distance learning.

The Monday distance learning days allow teachers to connect with students through office hours and regular check-ins as well as offer additional cleaning time of the buildings. Wednesday nights there will be additional sanitation of the schools to prepare for the switch of the A and B groups of students.

“A lot of people have asked why Mondays are distance learning and that’s because we know we are asking our staff to do something they have never done before,” Hudspith said. “The ability and opportunities to plan and prepare and make sure that Tuesday through Friday is engaging, valuable and rigorous for students as well as making Monday a positive distance learning day is needing to provide some time for staff. And that is really important for me that our staff is prepared to do what we are asking them to do as well.”

Base learning model

The base learning model the school chose to go with is the hybrid model. This is a base learning model because if cases in the county continue to rise the school could change how school would start in the fall before classes are supposed to begin on Sept. 8.

“Our plan for the flexible learning plan is we will revisit this plan every four to five weeks,” Hudspith said. “One of the things about starting in yellow that is prudent to us is it gives us the most flexibility and the opportunity to remain consistent for as long as possible for our students.”

The district hopes to keep the learning model changes to a minimum but it is prepared to make an immediate change if needed for the safety of the students and staff.

Transportation

Buses are to operate at 50 percent capacity and the school district will provide students in need with transportation, Hudspith said. He reiterated that he does not feel that additional buses will be needed or additional routes at this time since schools are not at full capacity on a daily basis.

“If any family has the luxury or opportunity to transport kids, that would help us out significantly,” Hudspith said.


News
spotlight
SNAP benefits see slight increase in Waseca County

County benefits and programs are more important than ever since COVID-19 hit. The pandemic has caused a number of reduced hours and layoffs in the county. 

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, is one program in Waseca County, through Minnesota Prairie Alliance, that helps low income people buy food to provide a nutritious and balanced meal.

“People don't like to think about it, but there are people in our communities who are hungry and don't have enough to eat," Minnesota Prairie Alliance Income and Health Care Assistance Manager Cathy Skogen said. "SNAP helps them put food on the table and the benefits aren't enough to provide a whole food budget for the month. This is just a way to help supplement it.”

According to the Minnesota Department of Human Services website there are more than 500,000 Minnesotans — children, adults, families and seniors — who participate in the nutrition assistance program. MN Prairie Alliance serves Dodge, Steele and Waseca County. 

When the pandemic started, Skogen said SNAP did not receive a large increase in applicants. She suspects this is because many didn’t qualify for benefits, due to the additional $600 a week from federal benefits through unemployment many received.

Since the end of the additional $600 through unemployment at the end of July, Skogen has seen a slight increase in applications for SNAP benefits as well as cash assistance.

SNAP and cash assistance use the same application process. The application is available through the MN Prairie website with instructions. Cash assistance can be used for emergency programs, general assistance, refugee assistance and other options listed on the MN Prairie website.

“We've seen a steady amount of applications during the pandemic,” Skogen said. “I don't know that we've seen an uptick until recently with people receiving the federal benefits.”

The average number of applicants for cash assistance and SNAP in Waseca County went from about 12 per week in April, May and June to an average of 23 per week in August, after the additional unemployment dollars expired.

Skogen said from last year compared to 2020, there has been an increase of 11 percent in applications, that includes SNAP and cash assistance.

“We do need to be aware as the number of people requesting services increases, we still have a limited number of staff, so we anticipate there might be a challenge to help people as timely as we want in the future," Skogen said. "It’s possible that if we see a big influx in applications there might be a backlog, but we will do our best and we have been in this situation before.”

The amount of benefits a person receives depends on the number of people in the household and their income.

Those approved for the program receive benefits on an Electronic Benefit Transfer card, EBT, that is distributed on a plastic card that is used to buy food at local stores. Each month the benefits will be credited to the EBT card for use.

If someone is already a part of Women, Infants and Children, WIC, benefits they can still apply for SNAP benefits and will most likely be eligible for SNAP. 

There are new applications every week, but not everyone who applies is approved.

Staff looks at the proper documentation, needs of the applicant and interviews the applicant before they are approved or denied. Skogen said people on food assistance usually have a six-month review and an annual re-certification, while reporting changes throughout the period.

The money can be used on fruits and vegetables, meat, dairy products, breads, snack foods and other foods. SNAP does not allow people to purchase hygiene products, cosmetics, pet food, alcohol or tobacco, paper products, food eaten in store and other items.

A full list of what can and can’t be bought with SNAP is available on the Minnesota Department of Human Services website.


Maplewood Park is the location of Sinister Forest expect for 2020, which is canceled due to COVID-19. (County News file photo)