Community leaders make sure no one falls through the cracks during pandemic

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by Mike Knaak

While state and national governments tackle the big issues of controlling the coronavirus pandemic, a small group of St. Joseph community leaders is focusing on details to deliver basic services during the health emergency.

About dozen leaders gather on Zoom once a week to make sure that people with housing, food and education needs are being served during the public health crisis.

The group’s informal leaders are Molly Weyrens from Central Minnesota Catholic Worker and Anna Mercedes, a theology professor at the College of St. Benedict. Other participants include people from Kennedy Community School, city government, Cultural Bridges, Resurrection Lutheran Church, the Chamber of Commerce and St. Benedict’s Monastery. Participants and organizations vary from week to week.

“We check in as a central spot for stakeholders so we’re not working in silos and duplicating services,” Weyrens said.

The group started meeting before the virus hit focusing on housing and food. Weyrens said the public health crisis highlighted those social gaps. This week’s meeting focused on housing and food.

The group is raising money to support meals for homeless people who are staying temporarily at area hotels. Almost 100 homeless people, many from rural areas, are staying in hotels and they need about 500 meals a week. Before the virus struck, Weyrens said, they were living in cars or sharing couches with friends and now they have no place to go.

The group is working with Kennedy to provide Coborn’s gift cards for the school’s Colt Action Packs that help families needing help with food. The packs, with easily prepared foods, serve 50 – 60 kids.

Also at Kennedy, there are plans underway to celebrate the end of the year, possibly with a drive-thru around the loop in front of the school.

Looking ahead to the summer, the meeting participants learned that the community garden at the monastery will be open but there will be no access to the barn. “We will have dirt and water,” Mary Quinlivan from Cultural Bridges said. Some concerns also included how to support children who won’t be able to play in large groups or participate in traditional summer recreational activities.

City Administrator Kris Ambuehl said city parks are open but people should use them at their own risk and practice social distancing. The Government Center is open for very limited services and city business should be conducted online. City Council meetings are continuing but with council members, staff and the public practicing social distancing.

These resources are available for people who need food assistance.

Senior Dining Meals on Wheels is available for those who are homebound and unable to get out. The Meals on Wheels program in St. Joseph is serviced through the Albany dining site. Diners are receiving a quantity of their choice of frozen dinners that can be stored in the freezer and taken out daily to warm up. To register, contact the Albany dining site at 320-845-4070. The program always needs volunteers to help with delivery.

St. Joseph Food Shelf is open Mondays and Thursdays from 1-3 p.m. and available by phone anytime at 478-213-2700. The food shelf is in the Community Center, 124 First Ave. SE.


Author: Mike Knaak

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