19 Fighting COVID-19: Unsung Heroes Creating Impact During the Pandemic and Unrest

As the COVID-19 crisis has spread across the country, it has disrupted every aspect of American life. During this perilous time, we all seek inspiration from people who capture our hearts and minds, who show us the path through the storm. People who are creating an impact.

Now, combined with a heightened awareness of the injustice and indignities African Americans have suffered during 400 years of racial discrimination following George Floyd’s death and the ensuing protests, we find ourselves in the grips of two pandemics that have become inextricably intertwined.

Over the past three months, I’ve learned the stories of nineteen unsung heroes in Minnesota. Ordinary people, like you and me, who are leading with hope and purpose, making a positive impact in our state and nation, in the midst of the COVID pandemic and social unrest.

I’m releasing a new book today, June 29, 2020  – 19 Fighting COVID-19: Unsung Heroes Creating Impact During the Pandemic and Unrest – where you will discover the stories of these inspiring Minnesotans. I hope their stories will fill you with optimism, hope, and encouragement. In our volatile and uncertain world, if ever there was a time for a book about resilient people who are making an impact, now is the time.

Thank you in advance for considering a purchase. With your purchase, you’ll make a contribution to fighting food insecurity in Minnesota. 100% of the author’s commissions will be donated to Second Harvest Heartland and Loaves and Fishes, so they can continue to feed those most in need during these times.

Here’s the link to buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/19-Fighting-COVID-19-Creating-Pandemic-ebook/dp/B08BCNVWK8/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Here’s a summary of the people and their stories within the book:

  • The story of an award-winning hairstylist based in Edina who created customized DIY coloring kits with instructions for her clients and delivered from a socially safe distance with a wave from her and her young daughters, while salons were in shut-down mode. Her purpose is to “Help others look and feel great, and uplift their happiness, confidence and self-image.” She’s the loving image shaper. Her name is Alli Swanson of Sloan’s Beauty Bar.

 

  • The story of a Maplewood-based intensive care unit nurse, whose purpose is “To do anything I can do – physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally – to help my patients feel better.” She’s the one who takes care of COVID patients. Who is in constant communication with the contact person of the family. She’s the one who is constantly checking the ventilator settings and determining if they are getting better or not. Of being there for those very ill, helping the family say their last goodbyes by iPad and being there with the patient until they take their last breath, so they do not die alone. That’s Tiffany Wolfsberger of Regions Hospital.

 

  • The story of a woman, her 8-year-old son and family who created a colorful eight circle THANK U sign on the retaining wall of their Edina home, each circle representing a COVID-19 hero group. There is a circle dedicated for doctors, nurses, truckers, grocery workers, police, firefighters, teachers and maintenance workers. And you can buy the signs and put in the yard of your hero. Or buy t-shirts. The money goes to food banks. That’s Heather Heier Lane.

 

  • The story of a Bloomington man with a servant’s heart who uses his gifts of empathy and connectedness to listen to and encourage at risk-teens with Zoom calls and connects with several older people who are isolated in nursing homes weekly. His name is Pat Siebenaler.

 

  • The story of a Hopkins woman who having found herself at her children’s pediatrician for the third time in one week, one time each for each of her three kids, to be tested for strep throat. She was so frustrated she started up a company to create a home-administered strep test. Earlier this year, the company pivoted to create a home-administered diagnostic test for COVID-19 to assist others in determining if they’ve been exposed to the virus or have developed immunities against the virus, potentially helping us to get back to work more quickly. Her purpose is to serve others. That’s Patty Post, CEO of Checkable Medical.

 

  • The story of a Plymouth man who with a few friends from church, created a website and process to connect those who are higher-risk people with a person of lower-risk in their same community for remote friendship, conversation and help with the delivery of groceries or prescriptions. His purpose is “To make life better for others. We’re all put here for a reason, to serve others as best we can.” That’s Jeff Johnson, Hennepin County Commissioner and founder of Northstar Neighbor.

 

  • A St. Paul Fire Department fire captain whose purpose is to “mitigate emergencies and return things to a safe state” and how the job of a firefighter and emergency responder has changed since COVID-19 and how he and his crew had to reinvent how they responded to and fought fires during May 28 & 29, when St. Paul experienced 55 arson-set fires, during the rioting and unrest. That’s St. Paul fire captain John Wolfsberger.

 

  • The story of a Plymouth-based privately-held medical device company that makes pulse oximetry products -a critical clinical therapy in treating COVID-19 patients – to measure oxygen saturation levels in the blood. The demand for their products has risen 10-fold so they are operating around the clock, struggling to manage a global supply chain, to meet the demand for their products. During their ramp up, they also had an employee who was MN’s second diagnosed person with COVID-19. No other ees contracted the virus and happily, the person who contracted the disease while traveling for work in Europe is now fine and is back to work. Their CEO’s purpose is to “Enable people to live purposeful lives, that positively impact others in the chaos of life.” Is this ever the time and place to live purposefully! That’s Nonin Medical’s CEO Dave Hemink.

 

  • Or how a young 21-year-old man whose purpose is “being a beacon of light when others are hopeless” who along with his friend from Shoreview, traveled to the looted Target store on Lake Street on Saturday, May 30 to clean the store of water sludge and debris. Their clean-up efforts were seen by others and before you knew it, over 1000 people joined in, creating assembly lined, to sweep & shovel out and pick up the mess fill garbage bags and arranged for a refuse company to haul the mess away.  I forgot to mention. This young man saw Minneapolis suffering and without hope and decided to do something about it. He drove 8 hours from Bradley U in Peoria, IL, to Shoreview, his friend’s parents’ home, so he could help out. He had never been to MN before but knew he had to do something – because he is a beacon of light when others are hopeless.  His name is Pierre Paul.

 

  • Of a small group of volunteers in south Minneapolis who came together literally overnight, convinced the owner of a hotel that was shuttered due to COVID-19, to allow 200 homeless people to take refuge in the hotel, in less than 24 hours, after the city razed an encampment they were staying with bulldozers, literally stranding them between looters, the national guard with nowhere to go during the curfew of May 29.  This group of volunteers is coordinating meal service, mental health services, first aid, harm reduction support and housekeeping services.  They are doing this in a horizontal way, anonymously, with no designated leader.  They call this the Sanctuary Hotel.

 

  • Of a woman who is a nurse practitioner in the neurosurgery intensive care unit of a large Minneapolis hospital who treats and cares for patients who have had strokes, traumas to the spine and other brain traumas. Now in the COVID-19 world we live in, family members are not allowed to visit their loved ones in the hospital. With her patients who’ve suffered cognitive injuries and traumas, her continuous communication with family is more essential than ever before.  She sees herself as creating impact by being a source of light during a troubling time for patients and family members, who cares and feels deeply.  That’s UofM’s Suzie Shane.

 

  • Of a man in St. Louis Park who started up a non-profit organization that provides free financial counseling and legal services and coaching to women who have recently become widows. His purpose is “to provide safe passage for others down the river of life.” He has also launched a new bestselling book in April, The Legacy Planning and Conversation Guide: The Workbook for End-of-Life Planning, a playbook to help singles and couples to get their affairs in order before they die. His name is Chris Bentley, founder of Wings for Widows.

 

  • Of the woman in Buffalo who is responsible for overseeing the safe transport of over 5000 students to and from school for the Buffalo/Hanover/Montrose school district. Her drivers cover a 157 square mile every school day. Her purpose – to get student to and from school safely and on-time – abruptly shifted in mid-March. Now, it’s to make sure the kids get fed.  Since school shut down, her team has delivered over 150,000 meals for those in need.  She’s making a huge impact. That’s Kimi Paumen.

 

  • The story of a 20-year old man who is a 5X cancer survivor, is a college student and is a Big 10 collegiate football player. Last July 19, this young man delivered the keynote speech at the Big 10 Football Kickoff Luncheon in Chicago. He lives daily by his impact declaration of: Wake up! Kick Ass! Repeat! He also coaches and encourages families and kids who are stricken by cancer and has been a big fixture at Children’s Masonic Hospital – that’s Casey O’Brien, the placeholder for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers football team.

 

  • The story of an Area manager for 9 bakeries whose purpose is to help everyone around her, “Feel Better and Be Better.” During the pandemic, they’ve had to reinvent their model, serve today’s customers differently, look to the future for what they want to be, while they serve first responders at a moment’s notice and she works to develop women leaders, supports the LGBTQ community and works with local food banks to distribute today’s left over baked goods. Favorite story is about how she prepared 900 box lunches for the National Guard on May 30 with less than 3-hours notice from 8 stores. That’s Panera Bread’s Marie Benesch.

 

  • The story of the Hanover elementary school music teacher who in addition to teaching her students via distance learning, performs on keyboard and sings Virtual Music events on Facebook Live for thirteen straight Friday nights while the live music venues have been closed. Her purpose is “Bringing joy to young and old by sharing songs that inspire.” Each week it is a new genre and new set of songs. She averages 5000 global viewers each week and was recognized by Governor Walz during his May 7 COVID update as his Feel-Good Story. That’s my beautiful and talented wife Mary Bolton.

 

  • The story of a man who doubled pivoted his business. At the outbreak of the COVID crisis, he pivoted his Minneapolis distillery to make hand sanitizer. When his distillery was damaged during the looting and arson following the death of George Floyd and the protests, he created a pop-up food shelf to feed the community. That’s Chris Montana of Du Nord Craft Spirits.

 

  • The story of those in the fight to battle food insecurity. Second Harvest – the nation’s second largest food bank, whose purpose is “To end hunger together.” Before the crisis 1 in 11 Minnesotans as well as 1 in 8 kids didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. Today, the needs are off the charts. They are seeing new faces. Our neighbors, colleagues and friends. They are really pumping to meet demand. They need donations – they can make $1 into 3 meals. Allison Toole CEO and leading the charge at Second Harvest.

Loaves and Fishes is the largest “open to the public” meal program in MN, serving free healthy meals to Minnesotans in need. The requirements for meals since the coronavirus pandemic have gone from 3500 meals per day to 12000 meals daily – triple their regular workload.  They’ve shifted their meal from congregate dining to takeaway meals during the pandemic.  Cathy Maes is Executive Director of Loaves and Fishes.

As I’ve had met and interviewed these people, during this uncertain time, during two pandemics – the COVID-19 pandemic and the racial injustice pandemic – which has been going on 400 years but has just been heightened for many of us the last four weeks – I am encouraged. I see hope. I see people taking care of others.  Operating with great purpose, with passion and making an impact.  While in many ways, we’re dealing with more uncertainty than certainty, I’m seeing more humanity in people, by and large.

That’s encouraging. That’s inspiring and motivating. That’s inviting to all of us to look for ways we can each create greater impact. So we can serve others and thrive. I know we’ll emerge from the adversity – that’s what Minnesotans always do. The question is will you be making greater impact – or not? The answer is up to each of us! It’s up to you, folks.

Here’s the link to buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/19-Fighting-COVID-19-Creating-Pandemic-ebook/dp/B08BCNVWK8/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

About the Author

Chuck Bolton is a coach and advisor to CEOs and a five-time bestselling author. In April 2020, he launched a new book, Reinvent Your Impact: Unleashing Purpose, Passion and Productivity to Thrive, which became an international bestseller in the USA, Canada and Australia.

Since 2000, Chuck has shown his clients how to reinvent their impact and create massive value through his coaching firm, The Bolton Group LLC. He loves inspiring and encouraging others to become their best so they can make their unique difference in the world.

Chuck has coaches and consults with leaders at Abbott, Boston Scientific, Cantel Medical, Hollister, IQVIA, KMT Medical, Medtronic, Nonin Medical, Optum, Performance Health, United Healthcare, Vyaire Medical and many more.  In his prior corporate career, Chuck last served as group vice president, human resources, Boston Scientific.

For more information: http://theboltongroup.com

100% of the author’s proceeds from book sales are donated to Second Harvest Heartland and Loaves and Fishes to fight food insecurity in Minnesota

Here’s the link to buy the book: https://www.amazon.com/19-Fighting-COVID-19-Creating-Pandemic-ebook/dp/B08BCNVWK8/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Minnesota’s Tidal Wave of Food Insecurity: The Heroes Who Keep the Most Vulnerable Fed

The COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the precipitous economic downturn, has added fuel to a fire that is the nation’s hunger crisis. The world’s most prosperous country, the United States of America, has tens of millions of citizens who suffer from food insecurity.

Feeding America is a nationwide network of more than 200 food banks.  They reported before the coronavirus crisis that 37 million Americans suffered from hunger. Now, they estimate the COVID crisis could result in a 46% increase. That means a staggering number of US citizens will be at risk of hunger – 54 million![1]

Closer to home, food insecurity is hitting vulnerable people in Minnesota especially hard.  Prior to the crisis, 1 in 11 Minnesotans, as well as 1 in 8 children, didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. If the national trend holds true to Minnesota, we’re looking at roughly 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 4 children in the state experiencing food insecurity during the crisis.  Since the outbreak of the virus, food shelves have reported double, sometimes triple, the need for food assistance.

Fortunately, there are food heroes among us, people and organizations whose purpose is to end hunger and make sure everyone has enough food, so they can be productive and engaged, and so that they can thrive.

Allison O’Toole, CEO of Second Harvest Heartland, the second largest foodbank in the country, described the food insecurity during the COVID crisis: “Now the needs are off the charts. We are seeing so many new faces. They are our neighbors, our colleagues, our friends.  We have a team that jumped into action right away. We are working around the clock. We are hustling. We are problem-solving every minute of every day.  Not only to meet the needs of today, but to meet the operational challenges that are in front of us.”[2]

Since mid-March, more than 750,000 Minnesotans have filed for unemployment benefits, or about 25% of the workforce.  Low income workers are bearing the brunt of the fallout from the pandemic and economic downturn.

O’Toole added, “As we see the rise in unemployment insurance applications, that is the volume that’s coming to us and our partners. Many of these folks have never been to a food shelf before. We’ve seen the need increase exponentially. It was immediate and we are trouble-shooting and problem-solving every second of every day to meet the tidal wave of need coming at us. For 40% of individuals being served, it’s the first time they’ve needed to ask for help.”

Second Harvest Heartland is providing tens of thousands of emergency food boxes and other meals for families facing hunger due to missed work, illness or other hardships during the crisis.

They’ve launched free emergency farmers markets and are developing new kinds of pre-packaged options to safely distribute fresh food.

Likewise, Loaves & Fishes is a nonprofit serving free, healthy meals to Minnesotans where the needs are greatest.  Serving over 90 outlets in ten counties, their meal program began in 1982.  They served a record-breaking 1.3 million meals in 2019.

Andrew Scott, site-coordinator for Loaves & Fishes at Hope Church in Richfield and Brooklyn United Methodist Church in Brooklyn Center said, “The new model adds a couple of new balls to juggle – packing meals, orchestrating the drive through, and upholding safety throughout – from point A to Z.”

Andrew is energized by the fact that no matter the changes, Loaves & Fishes is still there ready to provide food to those in need.  “As much as we are reacting to the pandemic in a dynamic disaster-response model, another way of looking at is that Loaves & Fishes has remained an anchor for food security. We are still here for you and we always will be,” he said.[3]

Before the pandemic, Loaves & Fishes served an average of 3,500 meals a day. Currently, they are serving nearly four times their regular number of meals – over 13,000 meals daily.

“The numbers for April showed we provided 384,043 meals,” said Cathy Maes, Executive Director of Loaves & Fishes.

Partnering with Second Harvest Heartland and Loaves & Fishes is a collection of restaurant workers who’ve created a community food kitchen. Chowgirls Killer Catering, like many other restaurants, saw a downturn in its business immediately following Governor Walz’ stay-at-home order.  Chowgirls turned their Minneapolis kitchen into a hub of lifesaving cooking activities. They call it Minnesota Central Kitchen.

Pulling culinary workers from around the Twin Cities and rescuing food from restaurants, cafes, and warehouses, while observing social distancing, they’ve come together to make over 850 meals a day.

Liz Mullen, executive chef of Chow Girls, described the rationale to pivot from a catering group to a community resource kitchen.

“It was created out of pure need. Loaves & Fishes has seen a 300% increase in all their locations in the past three weeks. So, these are the people who don’t have the opportunity or resources to stockpile food. Now, more and more people are becoming vulnerable. I think of all the chefs and line cooks who have lost their jobs.  Chefs in this kitchen have a more empowering challenge. You never know what foods will be donated that day. It’s ‘Iron Chef’ every day.”

Arianna Baker-Kern, chef de cuisine, described the challenge. “We have to figure how to make it palatable. How to make it high in protein and delicious. Everyone who works in food is getting some more recognition. It has been a service that has been taken for granted. It turns your job from something that you do every day to something that is spiritually satisfying.”

Mullen added, “What keeps us coming to work each day in this environment? Because it is so important. It is so important. I have all of these beautiful people that have pulled together a whole new business model in a week. They are willing to be here and work hard for the betterment of a community. This is clearly a time when once again the food community is rising up to help their neighbors.”[4]

The impact of hunger on children cannot be understated.  Child hunger is on the rise and the ramifications are enormous. Hungry children who are school students are at higher risk for physical and mental health issues and tend to experience worse academic outcomes. In a national survey in April, 40% of mothers with children under 13 said their families were experiencing food insecurity, up from 15% in 2018.

In Minnesota, one-third of students, nearly 320,000 children, qualify for subsidized meals.

Mary Jo Lange is president-elect of the Minnesota School Nutrition Association and food service coordinator for Red Lake School District. “Amid the financial uncertainty, nutrition staff are also trying to plan for fall without knowing whether in-person classes will resume,” she said.

“It’s a huge problem. We’re getting past the point where we’re worried about how (current service) is going to work because we’ve got it down, but now we’re worried about three months from now,” Lange said. “How are we going to feed these kids? What is it going to look like?”[5]

Kimi Paumen is manager of Vision of Buffalo, the contracted transportation company serving the Buffalo, Hanover, and Montrose, a 157-square mile area with 5,000 students in Wright County, MN. She described how her purpose shifted instantly in mid-March from “getting the kids to school on time and then get them home safely” to “making sure the kids get fed.”  In just two months, Kimi’s team of drivers delivered over 145,000 free meals to kids in need within the district.[6]

 

In the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, the grocery and neighborhood stores near the Minneapolis Police 3rdPrecinct Station were looted and torched. Nearby Sanford Middle School found many of their students’ families were now without access to food.

School food services and public transpiration were suspended across Minneapolis, affecting the school’s 970 students, about 60 percent of whom are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

“The area has become a food desert for these families, many of whom don’t own a vehicle to drive elsewhere. We had to do something,” said Amy Nelson, the principal of the school.

She and her staff emailed friends and others in the community, requesting they bring 85 food kits to the school parking lot on Sunday morning.  The food kids were to include cereal, bread, apples, diapers, detergent, and other essentials. Kits would be distributed to anyone who needed them.

The request for kits went viral, as word spread on social media and in the local news.  The staff was optimistic that maybe 150 kits would be received.

The people came.  Miles of cars, SUVs, and trucks wrapped around city blocks, full of groceries. By day’s end, an estimated 30,000 food kits were delivered that fed more than 500 families.

The excess supplies and food – of which there was plenty – was taken to food shelves in areas of the city most affected by the pandemic and protests.

Mara Bernick, family liaison for Sanford Middle School, said, “People of all backgrounds and races were picking up food and helping each other. And that’s what Minneapolis is. That is who we are. We take care of each other.

“Unquestionably, there are injustices in our states, cities, counties, and systems, but to see people put all of that aside and come together to help one another – that is really what we want to be about. At Sanford Middle School, we are all about diversity and helping each other. These students see what we are doing. They are the future; they are the ones who will effect change.”[7]

Both Second Harvest Heartland’s Allison O’Toole and Loaves & Fishes’ Cathy Maes emphasized that volunteers and continued contributions are critical to the vital work they do to ensure individuals and families aren’t missing meals during these challenging times.

Maes said, “There will be a time when donors stop thinking about the need.  We have guests who maybe never made it out of 2008 and are still living paycheck to paycheck. They might have a couple of months in their pocket, but that’s it. I look at what’s going on right now as much, much worse than 2008 and with a lot of fear.”

Imagine where Minnesota would be if it were not for these – and many others not mentioned – food heroes. Each one provides a tremendous service in keeping people nourished and healthy during the double pandemic. All the food heroes are creating enormous impact. Thank you!

 

[1] https://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/facts.

[2] Shine On Minnesota, FOX 9, May 10, 2020.

[3] Loaves & Fishes website.

[4] Shine On Minnesota, FOX 9, May 10, 2020.

[5] COVID-19 heightens fears about child hunger during summer break, Rilyn Eischens, June 9, 2020, Minnesota Reformer.

[6] Making Sure the Kids Get Fed: School Bus Drivers Are a Lifeline During COVID Crisis, Creating Impact, May 14, 2020. http://theboltongroup.com/making-sure-the-kids-get-fed-school-bus-drivers-a-lifeline-during-covid-crisis/.

[7] A Minneapolis school asked people to donate food for students after looting closed stores. ‘Miles of cars’ lined up. Sydney Page, Washington Post, June 2, 2020.

How Marie Benesh Leads by Her Purpose of Serving Others During the Pandemic and Unrest: “I Want Everyone to Feel Better and Be Better”

Responsible for nine Panera Bread cafes in the Twin Cities suburbs throughout northern Minnesota during the COVID-19 pandemic, Marie Benesh gets out of bed each morning to serve people. That’s her purpose. She serves her team of general managers and their teams in nine locations and her general managers and associates serve their guests – that is, the customer.

As an Area Operating Partner for the past four years, Marie is responsible for the overall health of her nine bakeries.  That means team member satisfaction, customer satisfaction, sales, profitability, people development and food quality. The buck stops with Marie for her area.

Marie’s approach to leadership is to motivate others.  She says her credibility as a leader is the sum of the people she’s surrounded by. She places a lot of effort in their development and enjoyment at work.

She says, “I’m first a people person. I want everyone to feel better and be better.  I lift them up, so they feel more competent and capable. If they are great, that does it for me!  I try to motivate them, act as a cheerleader of sorts. I have open discussions with each of my general managers. We operate by very high standards. I’m transparent with each about where they are.  Work can be draining and hard, so I like to make work fun and when it’s time to play, we play as hard as we work.”

How Marie serves people has completely changed since mid-March of 2020.  How guests are served is entirely different. There are no guest interactions in the dining rooms today. All food orders are served to go. The sales patterns have changed. Drive through sales have accounted for 30% of the business and now comprise 60% of the business.  A new Panera grocery channel has been quickly added so guests can order loaves of breads, jugs of milk, avocadoes, tomatoes and other products to pick up.  Curbside service has been a new add on for the convenience and safety of guests.

The COVID crisis has been particularly tough on the restaurant business. Some of the support staff was furloughed, cafes have been closed, and managers have taken pay cuts so the cafes can continue to operate.  Marie adds, “It’s a more intense time this period. We’re taking temperatures of assoicates and asking our folks if they are feeling well before they start their shift. All of us are wearing masks.  It’s hard on us all to not see the smiles of one another.”

Marie’s job is to keep Panera viable through this uncertain period. They are using coupons now for the first time and other approaches to maximize sales during a period when diners can no longer order and eat in the dining room.

Marie says, “How I serve my general managers has completely changed. For the first month after COVID, we had a daily conference call.  We needed to share information in a rapid-fire way and make sure everyone is aligned. By mid-April, we were getting a rhythm, so we reduced our calls to once a week and check-ins as required. We became more planful and less reactive.  How does the week look? How about our month and quarter? We’re trying to get back to a new normal.”

To survive and thrive, a must is being brilliant at the basics. “First, each Panera location has to ensure the safety of the food. Then, we have to focus on the wellness of associates and guests.  Are our associates protected and are our guests protected?  Are we protecting the company? Are we keeping the company viable for the short-term and long-haul?”, Marie adds.

Marie misses her guests. She said, “A number of the regulars who enjoyed a cup of coffee in the dining room as part of their daily routine were people I got to know and used to get hugs from. It was part of their day. We’re fortunate that patios have opened, and we anticipate the bakeries will be able to open at limited capacity very soon.”

While the COVID crisis has thrown all restaurants a curve ball, Marie doesn’t lose sight of the longer term and the need to continue to build the capabilities of her team and to build good partners with the community. “We need to continue to build a healthy culture where everyone feels valued and we continue to be good partners to our local communities”, Marie said.

To accelerate the number of women in management and leadership roles, Marie is sponsoring a Woman’s Leadership Group for her area.  Along with her colleagues, they’ve identified twenty female associates who have leadership potential. Through the leadership program, they will build the skillsets and abilities of their female associates, so they gain confidence and increase their capabilities in order to grow in their careers.

Marie says, “We have associates who with a bit of encouragement and help, could become a shift lead, and then, in time, a general manager.  I want to help them take that step.  At one time, I was a single mom with two young children.  We encourage them that they don’t have to be perfect, they can learn, grow, and get promoted, increase their earnings and having rewarding careers at Panera.”

Another initiative that Marie has sponsored is the Pride Parade.  Panera planned on participating in Pride Parade in Minneapolis for the first time in 2020. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the parade was cancelled. But Marie and one of her general managers have sponsored the I Belong movement to ensure members of the LGBTQ community feel welcomed and belong. They’ve served Pride Alliance cookies at their stores. They had a Rainbow Out Day at their Chanhassen location. Associates there wore rainbow colors and set up a rainbow arch that associates and guests could sign. Marie adds, “We welcome all people and give them the encouragement to be transparent about who they are. We want all of our associates and guests to be comfortable bringing their unique selves to our bakeries. It’s important to me to be an ally to the LGBTQ community.”

Since the COVID crisis, food insecurity in Minnesota is on the rise. It’s estimated that 1 in 11 people suffer from food insecurity in the state and 1 in 8 children suffer from food insecurity. To help those in need, Panera has a program for leftovers. All leftover food goes to local shelves, they partner with.  The product is still good, but since Panera bakes its breads daily, if bread is not consumed the day it is made, it goes to the food shelves to be donated to those in need.

Marie talks about her general manager, Julie, who heads the Panera operation at Abbott Hospital in south Minneapolis, about one mile from where George Floyd was murdered and very close to the fires that occurred the nights of May 28 & 29.  As most of Julie’s associates live in the community and rely on public transportation, and public transportation service has been curtailed during the pandemic, Julie has been picking up and dropping off associates so they can work, serve and receive a paycheck. Marie adds, “That’s typical for our general managers. We do everything we can to help our associates and guests. I’m so proud of the good people on our team.”

The general managers and their teams are always happy to serve the needs of first responders, requests which sometimes come with little notice. Marie described the morning of Saturday, May 30th. At 8:15 am, she received a call from the Minnesota National Guard, which had just mobilized guard members the previous day, to quell the unrest in Minneapolis and St. Paul, following the protests and riots after George Floyd’s murder.

The caller from the Guard asked Marie a simple question, “Can you feed us lunch today?”  Marie asked, “How many lunches do you need?” The caller said, “900.  And we need the lunches by 11:30 am at the state police depot. You’ve got 3 hours.”  Marie replied, “No problem.” We’ll see you then.”

With Panera Catering being closed during the weekend, the arm of the business that prepares large orders, generally with a few days notice, Marie and her general managers swung into action.  Remembering that Panera bakes its bread daily, the first hurdle was to get bread baked so sandwiches could be made. Marie called her retail cafes.  She asked, “We need 900 sandwiches, packed, labeled, with a bag of chips and a cookie in two hours.  How many can your café commit to?”

Six people, including her husband, who is not a Panera employee, scrambled to eight locations to help make and pick up the lunches and deliver them to Richfield, just in the nick of time to meet their commitment of 11:30 am!  An amazing accomplishment. The National Guard got their lunch.

Delivering 900 unplanned meals in three hours is the type of challenge that Marie loves to accept. That’s the way Marie rolls!  Her purpose is to serve others. In addition to ensuring an excellent food experience for her guests, she creates a culture that welcomes everyone, helps her people grow personally and professionally, while delivering outstanding results for her company. A win-win-win-win approach.

During a pandemic that is proving to be crippling to many in the restaurant business, Marie and her team are performing and delivering. She’s making her team stronger, preparing them to emerge from the crisis stronger-than-ever.

The definition of impact is to have a strong effect on something or someone.  There can be no doubt that Marie Benesh, a purpose-driven, people-first leader who achieves excellent results, is creating a great impact for all her stakeholders.

Wake Up! Kickass! Repeat! Minnesota’s Casey O’Brien Continues to Make an Impact During the Pandemic

Casey O’Brien is a twenty-year old man you have likely never heard of. He’s a redshirt sophomore at the University of Minnesota (a collegiate athlete in his second year of eligibility). Casey plays football under head coach P.J. Fleck for the Golden Gophers, and his only action on the gridiron has been for a few extra point attempts. Yet his story is quite remarkable. He’s a man who’s having an impact.

When Casey was thirteen, a freshman at Cretin-Derham High School in St. Paul, his life revolved around sports. He was a quarterback on the football team when he began experiencing intense pain in his left knee for no apparent reason.

Several doctors checked out Casey’s knee and none could identify the problem. His grandfather told him that if he chose to play football, he could expect that his knees would always ache. But Casey knew his body and knew his pain was more than the typical football grind.

His parents took him to the University of Minnesota Children’s Masonic Hospital for an examination. There, he was diagnosed with a very serious disease, osteosarcoma, an extremely rare form of bone cancer. Doctors removed a softball size tumor from his knee, removed all the cartilage and replaced his knee. They said his football career was over.

But Casey refused to quit. He had to get back on that football field. He said, “Cancer has taken over. I want my life back. I want to play football again.” And he created a plan to resume playing football.

He completed his chemotherapy. He conditioned himself and worked tirelessly. Acknowledging his quarterbacking days were behind him, he switched positions to holder. Casey created a declaration, a visual commitment of his pledge to get back on the football field. This was his impact declaration, a simple hand painted sign he posted in his bedroom. It read:

“Wake up! Kickass! Repeat!”

In 2015, Casey’s junior year of high school, the cancer came back, this time with spots on both lungs. He underwent more surgeries and more chemo. Casey battled back and refused to quit. In his junior year, he overcame a third bout of cancer. Eight days after a long surgery, sixty stitches in his lung and two broken ribs, Casey played in a sectional tournament game as holder. The next day, he went to chemotherapy.

Fast forward to 2017. Fourteen surgeries and several treatments of chemotherapy later, Casey had graduated high school and enrolled at Minnesota, the only FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision of the NCAA) team in the country that gave him a medical clearance. Coach Fleck gave Casey a shot. Casey told Coach Fleck, “I came here to play, not to stand on the sideline.”

In January 2018, the cancer came back a fourth time. Casey had lung surgery, but didn’t miss a single spring practice in March. Casey beat cancer again. All told, since 2013, Casey spent three hundred nights at the University of Minnesota Children’s Masonic Hospital. Today, he spends his days there as a visitor, and he offers the young patients and their families a reminder of what is possible. He says to listen to the doctors and staff because they are the people who will carry you through. He tells them to never give up hope. In Casey’s words, “Never give up!”

Casey shares his story, that devastating news, the circumstances he was placed in—these things were not going to dictate his life and his behavior. He wanted to play football again and he wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

On July 19, 2019, Casey delivered the keynote speech at the Big 10 Football Kickoff Luncheon in Chicago. He shared the memory of the call from his childhood hero, former Gopher and NFL great Eric Decker, when he had learned of Casey’s cancer challenge in 2015. Decker told him, “Stay strong and never give up. You have the whole world behind you.” It reminded Casey that simple words can be the most encouraging.[i]

Competing for a starting job behind two redshirt seniors, Casey got his chance during the 2019 season. He debuted on October 19, when he held two extra points in the Gophers victory at Rutgers. As Coach Fleck described Casey to the team in presenting the game ball that afternoon in the victorious locker room, “We have a living angel with us, men. He has played Big 10 football, something no one can take away from him. He’s defeated cancer four times. He’s rowing the boat with us. That’s Casey O’Brien.”[ii]

 

On November 25, Casey posted on Instagram that he needed surgery for a spot on one of his lungs. He had the surgery, and he is currently undergoing treatment. His prognosis is good. It looks like Casey has beaten cancer the fifth time. In Atlanta on December 12, Casey was awarded the Disney Spirit Award, live on ESPN, presented annually to college football’s most inspirational player.[iii]

While not cleared medically to fly, Casey and his family made the long car trip to Orlando where they watched the Gophers beat Auburn 31-24 in the Outback Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Watch for Casey to be back for the 2020-2021 season. Who would bet against him? He’ll never quit. As we know, he’ll “Wake up! Kickass! Repeat!” while he encourages others stricken with cancer and other adversities to do the same and never give up!

Now it’s June 11 and I’ve reconnected with Casey.  I ask him how he’s fared since our last discussion, prior to the outbreak of COVID-19.

Casey says he’s feeling great. He’s had to lay low during the virus, finishing up the spring semester via distant learning at his parents’ home, when the university suspended in-person classes in mid-March.

Casey has fully recovered from November’s surgery and has been working out on his own. The strength and conditioning coaching staff sent each player a list of bodyweight exercises to be done so they are in shape once practice begins. Casey says he’s excited to report back to the U on June 12th to see his teammates when Gophers football players begin their voluntary workouts.

He said, “The week of June 15, we’ll all get tested for COVID-19. Assuming those go well, we’re able to start our workouts by position groups. That’s exciting to get back with the guys. Then, we will begin practices with the coaches in July, so we’re looking forward to that.”

I asked him how the team has reacted since the George Floyd murder. Casey replied, “We have had team Zoom calls.  Our guys have talked about what they are feeling. We are supporting each other and listening. Hearing what life is like from our African American brothers. Letting them have the floor, supporting them and listening to their experiences.”

He added, “Several of our players have participated in the peaceful protests, to show their support of George Floyd, the community and the need to address systemic racism and reforms of the criminal justice system in Minnesota and the US.”

Knowing that he was be unable to volunteer at Children’s Masonic Hospital in person, as he had before the pandemic struck in mid-March, I asked Casey how his volunteer work has changed since COVID.

He replied, “I have been in contact with a lot of kids and their families who are at the hospital using Facetime. Their policy is that if you are over 18, you are considered an adult and no one is allowed to visit you, due to their COVID-19 policy. For children under 18, they are allowed one parent to visit.  So, it is very important to connect with kids to keep their spirits up. I think about how much harder it would have been for me.  There were times when I was in the hospital for a full week or longer. I’d have somebody visiting with me every single day, a parent or a brother or sister, or cousin. It made the time go more quickly. Now, other than the one parent, you’ve only got Facetime for the visits.”

He added, “People have been reaching out to me on social media and I’ve gotten to speak with a number of families and sick kids.  I just Zoomed with a family in Iowa last Friday. There’s a family in Illinois with a sick child who has a 5-K fundraiser coming up that I’m trying to support them on.  I’m meeting people virtually. I keep a close eye for direct messages I receive on Twitter so I can respond to those folks.”

Casey continues to make an impact during the pandemic with his support of others who are going through cancer. As one who knows the process too well, he’s an example of perseverance, courage, and encouragement for patients and families alike. Looking forward to the Gophers upcoming season and school reopening, Casey O’Brien continues to “Wake Up! Kickass! Repeat!” He will never quit.

[i] “O’Brien Delivers Keynote Speech at Big Ten Football Kickoff Luncheon,” University of Minnesota Athletics, July 7, 2019,

https://gophersports.com/news/2019/7/19/o-brien-delivers-big-ten-football-kickoff-luncheon-speech.aspx.

[ii] “4-time cancer survivor sees dream come true, taking field for Minnesota football,” Enjoli Francis and Eric Noll, ABC News, October 21, 2019.

https://abcnews.go.com/Sports/time-cancer-survivor-sees-dream-true-taking-field/story?id=66429460.

[iii] “Gophers placeholder Casey O’Brien shares positive news on his cancer fight,” Andy Greder, Twincities.com, December 12, 2019

https://www.twincities.com/2019/12/12/gophers-placeholder-casey-obrien-shares-positive-news-on-his-cancer-fight/

The George Floyd Protests Have Already Changed Society – And it’s Just the Beginning!

My wife, Mary, and I visited the makeshift memorial honoring George Floyd last Saturday in south Minneapolis.

We viewed the memorials and the signs in front of the now famous Cup Foods at the intersection of E. 38th Street and Chicago Ave. A church youth group arrived on the scene and the youth pastor led us all in an 8:46 countdown, the time ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s knee was on the neck of George Floyd during his murder.

We wondered what it must have been like to suffer as George Floyd did, while he narrated his own death? We wondered about the fear he must have felt as he suffered and had his very life breath suffocated out of him? We wondered what type of monster Derek Chauvin must be, to do what he cruelly did, torturing and taking another human’s life? We wondered why the three other police officers did not intervene, even physically pulling Chauvin off of the handcuffed Floyd, while he continued kneeling on George’s neck?  We wondered how people who were sworn to uphold the law, to protect the citizens of Minneapolis, could have participated in a brutal murder?

Our time at the memorial was deeply moving.  As we slowly and silently walked to our parked car, Mary looked at me, with tears in her eyes, and behind her facemask, she uttered one word. “Enough!”

Enough!

We’ve had enough.

Americans have had enough.

People of color have experienced racial injustice and systemic inequities across the US for four hundred years. Enough. Enough of seeing black Americans suffering at the hands of the criminal justice system and of hundreds of years of systemic racism. Enough of the police brutality. Enough of the injustice. Enough of the hazardous environmental risks black Americans face in their communities. Enough of lousy education and healthcare in inner cities. Enough of the discrimination in employment. Enough of the discrimination in housing and lending. Enough of the other systemic laws, policies, practices, biases and behaviors that prevent people of color from participating in the America that middle-class white people enjoy.

While the country experiences the pandemic of COVID-19, it also suffers from a pandemic of racial injustice. For one, we’ll hopefully have a vaccine for the cure. For the other, there will never be a vaccine, but that doesn’t mean we should not pursue a cure.

If the murder of George Floyd is not the tipping point for changing the racial oppression that exists, what could possibly be?  The time is now. This is America’s wake up call.

The good news: the death of George Floyd and the ensuing protests have already started changing our society – and it’s just beginning.

When George Floyd was eulogized by the Rev. Al Sharpton at his funeral on Tuesday, June 9, 2020, he described George as “an ordinary brother from Houston’s housing projects who nobody thought much about”, which makes his central role in a generational movement that much more powerful.

“God took the rejected stone and made him the cornerstone of a movement that’s going to change the whole wide world,” Sharpton said.

“Your family is going to miss you George, but your nation is going to always remember your name. Because your neck was one that represents all of us, and how you suffered is how we all suffer,” he added.

Truer words have never been spoken, Reverend Sharpton.

Younger brother Rodney Floyd said, “If he was told he would have to sacrifice his life to bring the world together, and knowing him, I know he would’ve did it.” Source 1: CNN, The Rev. Al Sharpton remembers George Floyd as an ‘ordinary brother’ who changed the world, Eric Levenson, Gregory Lemos and Amir Vera, June 9, 2020

George Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter Gianna, sitting on the shoulders of George’s boyhood friend, ex-NBA player Stephen Jackson, smiled in a video that has now gone viral and said, “Daddy changed the world.”

After two weeks of largely peaceful protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, it is becoming clearer that the Black Lives Matter movement is upending the way many white Americans view policing in this country.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’ve got to deal with the denial of the promise of this nation to so many people for so long,” Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential candidate said. “It’s about who we are, what we believe, and maybe most importantly, who we want to be.”

Biden called on Americans to look through Gianna’s eyes and question why racial injustice exists.

“Looking through your eyes, we should also be asking ourselves why the answer is so often too cruel and painful,” he said. “Why, in this nation, do too many black Americans wake up knowing that they could lose their life in the course of just living their life? Why does justice not roll like a river or righteousness like a mighty stream? Why?”

“Ladies and gentlemen, we can’t turn away. We must not turn away. We cannot leave this moment thinking, we can once again turn away from racism,” said Biden.

It looks like attitudes are changing in America.

Rev. Al Sharpton said, “When I looked this time and saw marches where, in some cases, young whites outnumbered the blacks marching, I know that it’s a different time and a different season.”

On Monday, CNN released a poll showing that 84 percent of respondents – including 88 percent of white respondents – viewed the peaceful protests as justified.” In contrast, 67 percent of respondents overall and 67 percent of white respondents answered the question similarly during a 2016 Black Lives Matter protest.

Politico’s Tim Alberta noted on Sunday, there has been an enormous jump in the number of poll respondents – and particularly white poll respondents – who believe that black people are more likely to be victims of excessive police force in this country, from 33 percent overall and 26 percent among white respondents in 2014 to 57 percent overall and 49 percent among white Americans in a survey taken the week of June 1.

“In my 35 years of polling, I’ve never seen opinion shift this fast or deeply,” wrote conservative pollster Frank Luntz in response to the numbers. “We are a different country today than just 30 days ago.” Source 2: Slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/06/George-floyd-protests-achieve-change.html

On June 7, a veto-proof majority of Minneapolis city council pledged to disband and defund the city’s police department.  Across the country, there are calls to cut police budgets, reinvent the role of the police and to disempower police unions.

The past two weeks has also witnessed the prosecution of police in Minneapolis for the officers who took part in the Floyd killing and in Buffalo, NY for the assault of an elderly man who was protesting peacefully.

The past two weeks have resulted in some massive changes. All good. But there is so much action required to fix the systemic wrongs. It can be overwhelming.

Let’s start the change by changing ourselves. I wish I had the magical formula for changing racial injustice. Unfortunately, I don’t. I’m no expert in what it must be like being black in America. But I am willing to invest time and effort to learn.

I want to see change. Here are four practices I’m committing to. Perhaps they could be useful to you, too.

  1.  Reflect. Check your heart. Be mindful. Calm yourself. Breathe. Pray. Reflect on your unconscious prejudices and attitudes. Know your implicit biases and commit to changing them. For more on identifying your implicit biases: https://www.aafp.org/journals/fpm/blogs/inpractice/entry/implicit_bias.html
  2. Listen. Connect with your African American colleagues and friends and listen. Seek first to understand. Put yourself in their shoes. Ask for their views about what is happening in our country? What it’s like to be black in America? Ask what you can do to be a better friend or colleague for them?  Ask if they could make one wish of white Americans, what would it be? Remember you’re not there to talk, but to listen. Here are useful tips in initiating what can be an intimidating discussion about race and racial injustice: https://www.opportunityagenda.org/explore/resources-publications/lessons-talking-about-race-racism-and-racial-justice
  3. Learn. Read and listen to works from black writers, bloggers and podcasters. Listen to podcasts at blacklivesmatter.com, and from other news sources where those who have experienced systemic racism discuss their experiences and the America they know. Do this to learn more and be better advocates and allies for black Americans.
  4.  Act. Take one action to make an impact. Do it frequently. Make a call. Write an email. Watch a video. Read an article. Attend a protest. Talk with your friends. Pray. Mentor youth. Serve others. Look for ways – small and large – to contribute your time, talent and treasure. To repair what has been physically broken. To repair bonds broken between people.

We’re facing two pandemics in America that have now become inextricably intertwined. One pandemic arrived 90 days ago and requires us to be cautious about where we go, with whom we come in physical contact and how we move about. Many of us find ourselves with more time on our hands.

The other pandemic has been around 400 years, but our awareness of it has been heightened in the past three weeks. We now have a rich opportunity to reflect, listen, learn, act and grow. Let’s take advantage of the silver linings of both pandemics so we can each – individually and collectively – make an impact.

When each of us changes ourselves, we create ripples that change society for the better. When we change ourselves, and we create virtuous ripples, those daunting systemic laws, practices, policies, biases and behaviors won’t be so entrenched. Together, we’ll change society for the better. It won’t be easy. It won’t be fast. But it can be done. It must be done. So, everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, experiences liberty and justice for all.

The Volunteers at the Minneapolis Sanctuary Hotel – Creating an Impact During the COVID-19 and Racial Injustice Pandemics

 One Momentous Night: Providing Housing and Safety for 200 People While Minneapolis Burned

There’s a remarkable story in Minneapolis that is emerging.  On the chaotic night of May 29, when businesses were looted and buildings burned across the Twin Cities in the aftermath of protests of the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, a small group of community volunteers who worked collaboratively, paved the way for 200 homeless people to be housed at the former Sheraton Midtown Hotel, which had been closed earlier in the year.

It’s hard to imagine a more dangerous time for people in Minneapolis who are homeless. Caught in a COVID-19 pandemic, homeless shelters in the area are full and not accepting new people in need, in an effort to keep their current occupants safe from coronavirus. The demand for food from local food shelves and food insecurity fears have never been greater, due to the economic calamity that has resulted from shut down businesses and historic levels of unemployment. The options for the homeless are few.

In March, nearly 100 homeless created an encampment on a narrow swatch of land adjacent to Hiawatha Avenue, named “Camp Quarantine”, in a collective belief that camping outdoors was safer for avoiding the COVID-19 virus than being crowded in shelters.  Now, that encampment was cleared by bulldozers and protestors and the national guard were advancing, in a night of fires, rubber bullets and tear gas and an impending curfew. It was a horrifying situation for those displaced.

In February 2020, shortly after the Sheraton Midtown Hotel at Chicago Avenue and E. 29th St closed its doors, local real estate and hotel investor Jay Patel came forward to purchase the property for $8 million. Patel had plans to rebrand the 136-room hotel and open later in the year.

In May, with many local hotels shuttered or operating with high vacancy, a Minneapolis city council member and some community organizations approached Patel, requesting he open the hotel to homeless people who had been displaced along Lake Street. He agreed.

The volunteers sprang into action.  Comprised of people with backgrounds in medicine, public health, social work, mental health, housing, media relations and other areas – and with no designated leader – this small group of dedicated volunteers worked around the clock during the riots.  Getting the word out to the homeless, reaching out to those who could volunteer food and medical supplies, they transformed the hotel into a one-of-a-kind shelter.  Residents and volunteers guarded the property to prevent it from being set ablaze, as buildings and businesses were across the street to the west and north, just a mile north of where George Floyd took his last breath.  They have named the property, the Minneapolis Sanctuary Hotel.  A number of Patel’s staff work side-by-side with the volunteers and residents as they go through the daily paces of providing services, as a functioning hotel would.

A volunteer who preferred to go by “Ann”, not her real name, described the situation. “Within 24 hours, we had 200 homeless people here. We’ve got 150 on a wait list.  There is such a huge need for housing.  We provide masks. Residents have sanitizing responsibilities. Having rooms with running water and soap is such a huge step up from a tent city.”

Ann continued, “From a food standpoint, we are receiving donations of pre-cooked meals in individual portions. Food is coming in from a number of volunteer organizations and we greatly appreciate the meals for our residents.”

“Residents can pick up boxed meals from people serving them with masks and gloves in the dining room. They can eat there, outside or take it back to their rooms.  We have cleaning and laundry crews who are keeping the shelter in good shape. We have staff that is providing wellness checks, first aid, mental health support and harm reduction services for addicts.”

She shared, “We are committed to ensuring this space serves the community and those who are homeless. We’re also checking out other hotels to expand this model to.  We’re doing this in a truly horizontal way, there’s not one point person, we’re all just stepping into leadership and action as required.  We’re a flat, horizontal organization.  Our hope is that other communities will take notice and create Sanctuary Hotels of their own, inspired by our example.”

A group of volunteers who are operating with a shared purpose and creating an enormous impact in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the thick of the riots in the days following the death of George Floyd, to provide housing, healthcare and nutrition to society’s most vulnerable people – the homeless – in a vacant hotel when buildings were literally burning across  the street. Thank you, volunteers of the Minneapolis Sanctuary Hotel.

With Hennepin County receiving $200 million in stimulus money from the federal government in April, earmarked for use by December 31 to address needs stemming from the COVID-19 crisis or to be returned, wouldn’t the purchase of the Minneapolis Sanctuary Hotel, and perhaps other hotels, dedicated to the needs of the homeless, be an impactful investment?  That’s a surefire way for government and the community to work together to tackle the vexing problem of growing homelessness in Minneapolis and Hennepin County. If you agree, contact your Hennepin County commissioner and request they support the county’s purchase of hotels for the homeless.  https://www.hennepin.us/your-government/leadership/find-commissioner

The following is a press release distributed on June 6, 2020 by the volunteers of the Minneapolis Sanctuary Hotel with additional information:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Margaret Mead

 

In Wake of Protests, Community Opens Sanctuary Hotel in Minneapolis

Minneapolis, MN — An estimated 200 displaced and unsheltered people have turned a south Minneapolis hotel into a sanctuary in the memory of former shelter worker George Floyd.  

The push to move into the hotel came as the city mandated curfew began on Friday (May 29) when armored vehicles and national guard troops advanced on Hiawatha Avenue where an encampment of people experiencing homelessness had just been cleared, less than a mile from the epicenter of the protests. With shelters full and limited options offered by the state, people found refuge in a former Sheraton hotel on Lake Street and Chicago. Throughout the night, people came in with stories of terror from police and other white supremacists. The National Guard shot rubber bullets at community members who stood in front of the hotel to protect it as many of the surrounding buildings burned.

When the hotel owners evacuated guests the next day, the community worked with them to keep the building open and have now turned the hotel into a sanctuary for people without housing. With the support of the owners, the community is now managing the facility with crews providing meals, first aid and harm reduction support, and housekeeping services.

All available rooms have been filled at this time, but community members are seeking more hotels to serve a growing wait-list of the hundreds of people who remain unsheltered. The metro has been under increasing pressure to provide housing for all people during the pandemic, but instead they have bulldozed tents and cleared encampments in violation of CDC guidelines. On a given night, the Wilder Foundation has found that more than 700 people in Hennepin County and nearly 20,000 people in Minnesota experience homelessness while there are around 80,000 hotel rooms available in the state. 

This sanctuary is working towards offering reparations and repatriating a piece of Dakota land by turning this hotel into housing for predominantly Black and Native community members in need. A conversation is ongoing with owners of the hotel and other stakeholders to find a solution to support the sustainability of this Sanctuary over the long term. 

For those looking to support this work, the Sanctuary encourages others to follow this model and set up community-driven sanctuary shelters across the nation.

Abu Bakr, a sanctuary resident who was living in his car before the protests says, “This building represents a better chance for people. A place for people to call their own.  Even for them to be able to come in, sit down and have a drink of water. It’s a place to take refuge. Here we are grateful for George Floyd, we understand that it was his life that made this reality possible.”

Rosemary Fister, a Minneapolis community organizer says,  “George Floyd was a shelter worker. He worked at the largest homeless shelter in Minneapolis. He supported and advocated for people experiencing homelessness while he was alive, and this will be a part of his legacy.” 

Learn more at sanctuaryhotel.org. For donations, please visit gofundme.com/f/sanctuaryhotel. For ongoing updates, please follow our Facebook page at Minneapolis Sanctuary Hotel. 

 

Be a Beacon of Light When Others are Hopeless: How Pierre Paul Led Others to Clean Up the Epicenter of the Minneapolis Riots

As Pierre Paul watched the video of the gruesome torture, suffocation and murder of George Floyd by the knee of the Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, his heart ached.  When the peaceful protests deteriorated into a riot, with looting, fires and destruction, he saw a community hurting and trying to come to grips with what was happening.

Pierre said, “I was pulled toward the hurt I saw in Minneapolis. I was hurting and needed to heal. I saw a community that was hurting and needed some glue to help it heal. I knew I needed to get involved, to try to help.”

Pierre texted his friend, Emma Hoyhtya, asked if she would help him and she agreed. On Saturday morning, May 30, they left her home in Shoreview for Lake Street in Minneapolis to volunteer in the cleanup.

As Emma described it, “We saw all of the people with brooms. People were cleaning in full force. The shattered glass was being swept up. People showed up for Lake Street. We found a school for disabled adults that had graffiti on the exterior walls. People were handing out supplies and we scrubbed off the graffiti with a product called “Goof Off!” which cleans it off walls. Then we swept out a Total Wireless storefront.  From there, we rolled up to Target.”

At Target on Lake Street, they found the prime spot for the looting and destruction. People had taken shopping carts and smashed the windows. Electronics and other high value items had been stolen. Together they went through the side door of the Target building, where water was flowing out.

Emma described the scene, “A buildup of water sludge rose up past your ankles. There was a broken pipe spewing water.  Looters had squirted condiments, opened up cereal boxes and dogfood bags and spread it. It was nasty and smelled foul.”

She continued, “Pierre got himself propped on a shelf. He is contemplative. He surveyed the area and thought about what to do. Then he said, ‘Emma, one person needs to start the cleanup.’ He picked up a shelf to push the sludge out of the door. I followed him.  Then three people asked if they could help out and joined in. Others picked up larger items like large bottles of pop, put them back on the shelves so we could push out the water sludge. More people joined, bringing shovels and brooms. Volunteers began sweeping the debris into trash bags and more people joined the effort. We went deeper into the store. All the time pushing water out the doors. An assembly line was created to fill the bags with debris. We really cleaned up the store.”

Emma said, “You could tell Pierre was the leader. He stood on a bucket and used his powerful bass voice to invite others to join us and shared what they could do to help. There was no social media outreach. It was all grassroots, on the ground volunteers. There was a curfew and major roads in the metro were closing by 7 pm Saturday night, so Pierre got everyone wrapped up, invited them back on Sunday and we headed back to my home.”

Emma continued, “On Sunday morning, people met up at Target again to finish the cleanup. Pierre asked, ‘Could we salvage any of the food?  Other than the food damaged by water, could we save the canned and packaged food and get it to those in need?’ He then called Target’s corporate office and they gave us permission to give away the food that was salvageable. He organized a group of volunteers who began packing bags of food for pick up by those in need and for distribution to local food banks.”

She added, “One of the volunteers called a waste management company they had a connection to that brought in trucks to haul away the garbage. it was really beautiful with so many people coming together. By that time, Target corporate had arrived and arranged for the store to be boarded up.”

Pierre commented, “What’s really important is you see people out here with hijabs, you see people out here who are wearing Black Lives Matter shirts, people who are wearing Cops Lives Matter shirts, but none of that matters because we’re all coming together for one common good and that’s to bring justice to what’s happening. Hopefully, we can bring back justice to African Americans who feel that has been taken away from them – because it has been. We can bring justice back for Target and other businesses that have been damaged, too, by helping cleanup. This started with just a few people and then over a thousand joined us. It’s exactly what we need to do. We should come together like this on every issue. It’s sad it took this (death of George Floyd) for us to come together.”

Emma says about Pierre, “I admire Pierre’s ability to take an idea and then go implement it, inviting others to join him. He jumps in and leads with his heart. His energy is contagious, and others want to follow him. He’s such an amazing leader.”

When asked about his purpose, Pierre commented, “My goal in life, my driving force, is to be a beacon of light when people are hopeless.”

Pierre Paul is a 21-year old graduate student from Bradley University in Peoria, IL where he’s pursuing a master’s degree in non-profit/public management.

On Thursday May 28, Pierre saw the hurt and hopelessness in Minneapolis on tv and decided to do something about it.  Pierre had never been to Minnesota, but as the speaker of the assembly at Bradley University, he met Emma, who is now president of the student senate, and knew she lived near Minneapolis, the only person he knew in Minnesota.  They exchanged text messages, Emma told Pierre he’d have a place to stay and Pierre hopped in his car, driving the eight hours to Shoreview from Peoria.

Pierre says, “In Minneapolis, I was bringing hope to others and they were giving hope to me, too.  That hope gives me drive and life. We’re fighting for justice. Justice that’s been missing for 400+ years in the US. We need to keep pushing. There’s a systemic problem. The criminal justice system is biased, it hasn’t adapted, and the flood gates open with officers who are bad and create racial injustice.  George Floyd is the fire we needed lit. Justice shouldn’t have to be served, but it needs to be served. Peacefully.”

When asked about his passions, Pierre described, “I’m most passionate about change. Creating an optimistic society where dreams really come true for youth. Where we live together in a world with no limitations or boundaries due to the pigment of our skin, our sexual preferences and gender. I’d like to see us create change that is lasting. One raindrop in the oceans creates ripples, and those create more ripples. And those ripples cause generational growth. A future that is better for all races of people.”

He added, “I felt this weekend in Minneapolis, people were brought together who needed hope. We shined a light that protesting isn’t destruction. We protested together for equality and there are many facets of the movement. Many need justice and justice doesn’t come in just one size. This weekend, in a small way, we cleaned up that Target store together. We came together. Imagine if we came together to tackle all of our big problems?”

Living his purpose of “Being a beacon of light when others are hopeless”, Pierre, a 21-year old graduate student who’d never been to Minnesota before May 29, led and lifted others up who needed it, creating quite an impact.

Pierre Paul’s future appears to be very bright indeed. Keep living by your purpose and creating an impact, Pierre!

During the COVID Crisis and Upheaval Following George Floyd’s Murder, St. Paul Fire Captain’s Purpose is to “Mitigate Emergencies and Return Things to a Safe State”

Being a firefighter has always been a dangerous job, but during a fire, you can see the smoke and flames and feel the heat. Since mid-March an invisible virus has been added into the mix, making the firefighter’s job much more challenging. During the night of May 29 and early morning of the 30th, with 55 fires set by arson added to the formula, you get a dynamic, chaotic and volatile scenario.

John Wolfsberger is a fire captain at Fire Station 6, in St. Paul, Minnesota, on the west side of downtown. For nearly twenty years, he’s served the department. For the past two years, he’s served as fire captain, in charge of one engine with a crew of four, serving a 24-hour shift.  His crew also operates a fireboat on the Mississippi River.

John has always sought roles where he could help improve the health and safety of others. Years ago, he took an emergency medicine course and following college, got hired as an EMT for a hospital emergency room.  Working in that role, he met several firefighters who talked with him about their work. Wolfsberger was intrigued, applied to the St. Paul Fire Department and was hired as a firefighter.

In St. Paul, firefighters respond to both emergency medical crises and to fires.  He says, “The job is pretty straight forward, but what isn’t clear are the emergencies they will be faced with throughout the day.”

“Historically,” John described, “firefighters have been quick to respond to a crisis. Our approach is to overwhelm an emergency. A fire gets overwhelmed and goes away quickly. Now, in the COVID-era, we take a step back. Our instinct is to rush in and overwhelm. Now, we have to move in, approach cautiously and mitigate the problem.”

“There are new procedures to follow.  We’ve taken down the number of crew members on EMS calls to two. We’re sending two people and one person is making patient contact, and it reduces the amount of PPE (personal protective equipment) that needs to be consumed on these runs and also reduces opportunities for exposure. All of our firefighters get a health screening. They are asked how they’re feeling, if they’ve been around anyone with COVID-19 and they get their temperature taken before and after each shift. Masks, gloves and gowns are worn on medical calls. We maintain distance from one another in the firehouse. Now the 6-foot rule is in effect. We wear masks all the time and keep our distance.”

“Most fire calls to the department are to seek help with small fires,” John continued. “Food has been overcooked and is burning, or there is a small fire in the garage, or an alarm is on and can’t be turned off.  Three months ago, we would send four to eight firefighters to burst on the scene. Now, we send one-person in, to diagnose and attempt to fix the situation, before bringing in others, if necessary. That keeps our firefighters safe from unnecessary exposure.”

After the murder of George Floyd on Memorial Day, May 25, protests began in Minneapolis the following day and quickly spread to St. Paul. A small percentage of the protesters began rioting, looting and burning buildings, homes and businesses.

John described, “Rioters are completely different. It got crazy early Thursday evening on the 28th. We were out all night fighting one fire after another.  There were four fires our crew fought during the last twelve hours of our shift.  Our chief told us there were between 50 – 60 fires in St. Paul that night. We were jumping from one emergency to the next. We received some reinforcements from the suburbs to different locations which is very rare. We worked a 26-hour shift fighting fires.”

To respond to the fires set by arsonists, the city beefed up the staffing of firefighters by 50%.  The chiefs set up roving strike teams, deploying all the crews and equipment in the hot spots, so they could respond fast, rather than waiting for a call in the firehouse and then responding.

While John believes his wife and family are most important in his life, he says his purpose as a fire captain is, “Mitigating emergencies and returning things to a safe state.” He and his team rescue people from dangerous situations, from fire emergencies and medical emergencies.

(Note: John’s wife, Tiffany Wolfsberger, is an ICU nurse and her story was shared on May 12, 2020 http://theboltongroup.com/frontline-icu-nurse-in-the-covid-battle-says-my-purpose-is-to-help-my-patients-feel-better/ )

Since the COVID crisis began, John believes, “The perspective towards firefighters from the greater community has changed. The role the SPFD plays hasn’t changed, but the people we serve have become more vulnerable. Between COVID and the response and outrage resulting from the Floyd murder, there is a heightened awareness that we keep people safe and there’s an appreciation, too, of first responders.”

When asked how he manages fear, John responded, “Preparedness. You are trained to do the job. Emergencies fall into a finite set of problems. Someone’s sick, there’s a fire, or there is a different type of emergency. Preparedness is the biggest and best tool to overcome fear. You don’t hear the word ‘scary’ in the firehouse. We are confident and trained. We have the training and knowledge to keep us safe.”

 

When asked what he’s learned during the COVID crisis, John said, “Other than knowing that cabin fever is not fatal, and not being sure we could handle so much isolation time and so little everything else, I’ve learned that we can handle a little bit of cabin fever and it’s not the end of the world.”

He also added, “I do think people are more aware. Essential services – hospital, fire, police – people are more mindful. Everyone sees us wearing our masks. As we interact with others, we’re wearing our masks.  We are a model on how to stay safe.  We’re required to follow these guidelines and we’re motivated to follow the guidelines as we’ve seen how people get sick. We remind others how to stay safe.”

Firefighters have had to reinvent how they respond during the COVID crisis and how they respond to fires set by arsonists during the George Floyd and police brutality protests.  And firefighters and fire captains like John Wolfsberger continue to create great impact in their service to mitigate emergencies and keeping us safe. Now, in a period of a pandemic, of an economic calamity and of social unrest, when we’re more vulnerable than ever, it’s time to appreciate the firefighters who keep us all safe.