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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.

Frustrated Mom’s Startup Company to Create Home-Administered Diagnostic Test for COVID-19 


It was a Friday afternoon in 2018 and Hopkins, MN resident Patty Post found herself at the clinic, for the third time that week, waiting for her daughter to be tested for strep throat.  On Monday it was her younger son who needed a strep test, on Wednesday it was older son, and on Friday, her daughter had a sore throat, needed a test and likely a prescription.

When Patty called her children’s pediatrician Friday morning to explain her daughter’s symptoms and request a prescription, it fell on deaf ears. “Bring her in the office and we’ll test her here,” she was told. Faced with burning yet another afternoon at the doctor’s office for a simple test, Patty asked herself, “Why can’t a strep test be administered at home? It’s a simple immunoassay. Why isn’t there a home test available for parents to administer to their children who are susceptible to strep? And if the test is positive, why shouldn’t you be able to get a treatment plan virtually and a prescription?”

A self-described “problem solver”, Patty says she caught the entrepreneurial bug when she was only ten years old, when she began marketing her babysitting services to families who vacationed near her family’s lake cottage, where she lived during the summers with her parents.

Frustrated by the status quo of going to the clinic to get checked for a simple infection, motivated Patty to start up a company of healthcare and technology experts to find a better solution to this problem. She founded Checkable Medical and became its chief executive officer.

Checkable Medical’s mission is to empower individuals to make clinical, evidence-based decisions from the comfort of their homes. They are focused on delivering innovative at-home diagnostic testing to employers and individuals.

Without having to go to the doctor, Checkable Medical’s diagnostic tests paired with a digital platform allows individuals and caregivers to administer their own tests for infectious diseases thus reducing the burden on our healthcare system and minimizing exposure to the population. Checkable Medical focused their energy and resources on developing an in-home, over-the-counter in vitro diagnostic and digital platform for the rapid identification of Group A Streptococcal bacteria

In March of 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis spread across America like wildfire, Patty and her team explored whether their technology could help in the fight against the coronavirus.  They became a distributor of a COVID serology antibody test and are now creating a platform for individuals and employers to detect antibodies of COVID from home. For individuals who test positive, they should seek the assistance of a healthcare provider. For individuals who test negative, that finding may help them in getting back to a new way of normal.

Their rapid-result antibody serology test, administered at home or at the office, will determine if the individual has the antibodies to fight COVID-19.  It is anticipated the test will detect the presence of both an acute IgM and chronic IgG immune response to infection of the COVID virus with a 95% accuracy. Patty Post’s hope is the serology antibody test will be a vital tool in reopening the economy.

Post said, “We believe the test will help identify if you’ve been exposed to the virus or have developed antibodies against the virus. We believe it can be helpful in identifying asymptomatic carriers and in identifying bigger groups of individuals who have been infected – potentially helping us get back to a more normal pace faster.”

“We’re in the early stages of a clinical trial, we will have data in late summer to submit to the FDA. Our hope is for a quick approval and we can offer the test and digital platform directly to consumers and employers.

Patty is a woman of faith and says her purpose is to serve others. She believes God has given her the gifts and nudge to create and provide diagnostic tests that can be administered around the world.

She described the heartbreaking problem of young women in parts of Africa and India who die during childbirth due to undiagnosed heart conditions caused by damage from strep infections.  She sees a day when diagnostics can be brought into rural villages of third-world countries to diagnose diseases like strep, influenza and COVID and pair positive diagnoses with antibiotics.

When asked if the COVID crisis has made her purpose more profound, she said, “Absolutely, I’ve been more purposeful since the crisis. We all have felt helpless, watching the virus coming down the pike. As a family member, you can’t visit your loved one at a hospital. We all feel a great deal of uncertainty. I’m an entrepreneur and I’m very driven to make a difference.  At Checkable Medical, we have tools and we are developing new tools. It’s our place – and it’s my place – to use my gifts and our company’s tools to make a difference.”

While Checkable Medical has regulatory hurdles yet to clear, the diagnostic tools and digital platform they offer will help consumers and companies make evidence-based healthcare decisions from home and work. Their success could make for an important tool that could boost the economy by allowing employers to safely bring their people back to work.

Patty Post is a leader who is driven by her purpose.  Through her focus, energy and leadership, she and her team are making a great impact during the pandemic.

Frontline ICU Nurse in the COVID battle says, “My Purpose Is To Help My Patients Feel Better.”

Earlier in her career, Tiffany Wolfsberger worked as an emergency room nurse for two years.  While she learned a lot in the fast-paced ER environment, it was tough to develop a connection with the patient. If the patient’s ailment was fixed, that person left the hospital. If it was mitigated yet further care was necessary, the patient was transferred to another section of the hospital. The ER was too transactional for Tiffany. She transferred to the intensive care unit, where for seventeen years, Tiffany Wolfsberger, has served as an ICU nurse at Regions Hospital in Maplewood, MN, and has worked to help very sick patients get better.  

When asked about her purpose, she says, “To do anything I can do – physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally –  to help my patients feel better.”

In the past two weeks, the ICU at Regions has been under siege with COVID-19 cases.  She’s seen more COVID patients enter her unit.  Tiffany said, “Yesterday, we had 17 nurses on the floor, usually we have nine nurses.”. 

By the time patients reach the ICU, they are very sick.  Many have trouble breathing on their own, are on ventilators, a number are on dialysis, with their blood pressure increasing.  With the influx of patients from nursing homes, many of whom have chronic health conditions, the spread of COVID-19 is extremely aggressive. Tiffany says, “It’s truly something we haven’t seen.”

What has been most difficult for Tiffany and her colleagues since the outbreak of the coronavirus in Minnesota in mid-March, has been the inability of family members to visit their loved ones. As Tiffany described, “The absence of family of the patients has been so hard.  Before COVID, we often learned from the family things about their loved one. ‘What does an expression look like? Are they in pain? Do they like their feet tucked in?’ Just simple things.” 

She continued, “They’re the patient’s real support.  We’re there to help them but there’s an emptiness to not having that.  The rooms and hallways at the hospital are empty. The parking garage is empty.”

“Now, when we talk with the family, there is only one contact person per family speaking with us. That’s so hard for the family members. It’s such a difficult time for them. The family is truly missed. In normal times, I do my best to get to know the family.  They become comfortable with me as they get to know me.  They know I’m there to help them.”

Tiffany added, “I want to be that person for them. I look forward to getting to work and seeing if someone is getting better.  At home, I’ll wonder, ‘Is he getting better?’ When I get to work, I’ll check the ventilator settings. Have they been adjusted, to show he’s getting better? If they are not getting better, Tiffany works to provide even more support to the family.  

On April 30, KARE 11’s Brandon Stahl and Lou Raguse ran a story “In her words: Dying from COVID, but not alone”, describing what it was like to be the only person able to care for 60-year old Don Lydick, who was dying from COVID.  They interviewed Tiffany. Part of that story is retold below.

“I came into Don’s life just at the end. I had been off work and just had come back. Don was on our floor for almost two weeks, very sick and needed ventilator support early on. The virus just took over. It changed his organ function. It’s just such a vicious virus. To see what it is doing to patients; it’s like nothing I’ve ever experienced.

Don got to the point where he couldn’t tolerate going on his back. He was on his belly for almost, I want to say four to five days. That was the only way we could keep him alive. There was nothing more we could do for him.

I first called Joanne (his sister) and explained that his face might look a little swollen because he’s been on his stomach and she might not recognize him. She was very nervous to see him. I let her know that I could make it so that she would just see the back of him, so it would look like he’s just sleeping. And it would give her peace. She said that would be great.

She said, “Can you promise me that someone’s going to be there to hold his hand and pray with him?” And I said I can promise that.

The next step was to get the video iPad, and I did a test call in the conference room. I made sure to take off all of my goggles and face mask and everything, just so they could really see who was going to be with their brother in his final moments, that I really truly was going to be there for him and treat him like he was my brother.

And I let them talk to him. It was hard to not just have tears in your eyes, to look at this monitor with loved ones saying goodbye on a screen. Nothing prepares you for that moment. And that moment will never leave me.

They said their goodbyes, they encouraged him to go find his mom and his dad. Told some funny stories. We said a prayer together. I told them I would call Joanne when he was gone.

I went back in, we made him comfortable; turned off any medication that was artificially raising his blood pressure. And I held his hands and talked to him. I talked to him like he could hear me. I told him how his sisters told him that he was loved, and I tried to treat him as if he was my brother.

I sang “When I go down to the river to pray.” I actually noticed some tattoos and said you know I would love to hear the stories about these. I rubbed his head, his shoulder, to just let him know I was there with him.

You sit and you hold somebody’s hand and you look at their breathing and how it changes. And then you just see someone so tired at peace. You see the monitor, the heart slowing and slowing and those final breaths. What I saw was somebody’s son. He took his last breath, about two hours after. I stayed with him. I said a prayer with him.

Afterwords, I just took a moment to absorb what happened. I called Joanne, I told her about how Don looked, how peaceful it was. She was very grateful. She was surprised. “You were there the whole time?” I told her: “I promised you that he would not die alone. And I was in there until he did.”

Driving home, that’s when I really let my emotions go. Because you really have to keep it all together, you don’t want to make the patient sense your sadness. But that drive home was a hard one. I really knew there was going to be more Don’s in my future. It’s sad. It’s scary, and it just really, really affects you.

I know that we are no substitute for a family member, a wife, a sister. I know that. But I do want people to know that we’re struggling with this just as much as they are. And we are all working to make this not be the case – that no one will die alone. We all stand together. We just want them to know, that we’re going to be there for them.”

When Don Lydick, a former U.S. Navy nurse took his last breath on April 10, he was not alone. Tiffany Wolfsberger held his hand while he passed.  As so many ICU nurses around the country are doing today with so many victims of COVID-19. They are our frontline heroes.  

Married for fourteen years to husband John, a St. Paul firefighter, together they are raising their 12 year old son and 10 year old daughter. Tiffany is passionate about her family, her work and her patients. 

As National Nurses Week concludes, it is important we recognize nurses like Tiffany whose purpose is “To do anything I can do – physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally –  to help my patients feel better”, for the loving care and support they give patients and their families during their hour of need. These healthcare professionals have an enormous impact on making the world a better place.  Tiffany Wolfsberger is making an enormous impact. Thank you, Tiffany.

 

Positively Impact Others in the Chaos of Life

When the men’s small group that Dave Hemink is a member of collectively decided to mine for and define their individual life purposes, just over two years ago, little did Dave know how valuable that exercise would be in the throes of the COVID-19 crisis.

At the time, Dave was a division president of a $1B global publicly-traded medical device company. As a seasoned leader with twenty-five years of experience running companies, he knew a lot about leadership. The father of two teenage girls and married to his amazing and beautiful wife, Kristin, for nearly twenty years, Dave had a loving family and an important job. Once Dave’s purpose was clarified, it suddenly opened an entirely different way of thinking.

Purpose is the overarching guiding principle that gives your life meaning.  Most people haven’t clarified their purpose. Together with the other men in his group, Dave reflected on some deep questions, his life experiences, his values and gifts.  Dave said, “We looked within and clarified our purposes. Your purpose is deep within you, it is there. It’s up to each person to find it.”

After thoughtful consideration, Dave defined his purpose as: “I live life to break barriers, create paths and enable people to live purposeful lives, that positively impacts others, while living in the chaos of life.”

When the COVID-19 crisis hit the US in full force in March of 2020, we all experienced chaos in our lives. Dave included. Dave is the chief executive officer of Nonin Medical, a Plymouth, MN-based medical device company, that has been a world leader in innovating and manufacturing pulse oximetry systems for 35 years.  The mission of the company is to improve the quality of people’s lives throughout the world by expanding the capabilities of noninvasive measurements.

The pandemic and resulting public health crisis have created a shortage of pulse oximeters, which have been identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a critical clinical therapy in treating COVID-19 patients, citing: “Oxygen therapy is a major treatment intervention for patients with severe COVID-19. All countries should work to optimize the availability of pulse oximeters and medical oxygen systems.” Dave and the Nonin team provide the equipment needed for healthcare workers and patients on the frontlines of this global pandemic.

“In the past few months, Nonin has seen a dramatic increase in demand for its mobile pulse oximeters. I don’t think anybody could have predicted what we are seeing today”, said Dave. “We’ve been fighting this from day one and the global demand for pulse oximetry products globally has been unprecedented,” Dave further stated. Nonin Medical’s executive chairman, Phil Isaacson, added, “The people who have been buying from us in the past are now trying to buy 10 times more. We can’t keep up.”

Dave and the Nonin team are literally working around the clock, expanding manufacturing capabilities and strengthening their supply chain to provide pulse oximeters to healthcare professionals worldwide to diagnose and treat COVID-19. “We have product lines that are up 2,600 percent,” reported Hemink.

Dave said his purpose helps center him during this unprecedented period. “My purpose is front and center now. Your purpose is magnified at different times of your life. You live it – it is embodied in you in times like these,” said Dave.

“As a leader, you have a lot of tools at your disposal, I compare it to a mechanic’s Craftsman red tool chest. Some of the tools you use daily, some of the tools you will never use, until one day, you have a unique job that requires a unique tool.  That is where we are today.  The COVID-19 crisis has our team reaching so far in the back corners of the tool chest.  That chaos component is amazingly real. We’ve got supply chain issues and challenged suppliers. We are an essential employer and we’re committed to keeping our team members safe and well. We have customers who are demanding and desperately in need of product. Every hour it is something different. What I’ve learned is you live your purpose – and that tool chest – to guide you. To provide the team with the path”, Dave continued. “I think of purpose as the grout between the tiles. It holds everything together.”

When asked how he uses his purpose to lead his team, Dave replied, “I’m using it to create calm during the chaos, so I can give our team members the confidence to act. They are doing heroic things. The definition of a hero is an ordinary person in an extraordinary time who takes action. That describes our team members.  They are having to really stretch – sometimes doing things they’ve never done – for the greater good.  Figuring out as we go, as we’re driving 120 miles per hour. For example, helping our suppliers open shuttered factories in the Philippines and India. Finding new sources of raw materials to meet our customers’ demands. Figuring out how to process and ship orders even faster.  Working with the FDA proactively and creatively to accelerate new product approvals. We’re doing this and more, all in real time. I couldn’t be any prouder of the team and the amazing work they are doing.”

If meeting the dramatic demand for Nonin products wasn’t challenging enough, while ramping up their production capabilities, Nonin Medical has had to deal with additional chaos, when one of the first diagnosed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota was an employee of the company. “Suddenly, that individual, as well as 10% of the Nonin team, were in proactive quarantine, just when Nonin needed every hand on deck. Thankfully, no other team member to date has tested positive and the individual who tested positive has recovered, is healthy and back to work,” said Dave.

Christine Horton, Nonin’s vice president of global marketing states, “Great leaders and individuals grow from adversity and chaos. I see Dave as someone who is positively impacting others through the chaos of life. He’s navigating the company, the leadership team and individuals through this adversity in order to better everyone. It hasn’t been about Dave, about his title or any of that. He could have any title and people would follow him. He doesn’t need to lead with his title. They are following because they feel empowered when they follow him. He’s navigated us through so many obstacles, where we could have had failures, we’ve found opportunities. We are finding solutions. He’s navigating us to make the entire company better and very, very rapidly. In a very short time.”

“The character of a leader is defined in the time of a crisis. This is who we are and what Nonin is all about. It’s a new frontier and we need new solutions. We’re flexing our adaptable muscle for those on the frontlines. This can be – and will be – our finest hour. Having a clearly defined purpose is my rudder in the chaos of life, so I can provide the leadership all our stakeholders desperately need,” Dave said.

When leaders lead with a clear purpose, everyone benefits. It serves as your North Star, the overarching principle that gives your life meaning. Would you want to be led by someone without a purpose? What if that leader, without a clear purpose, was you?

Leading with purpose provides a path, that positively impacts others in the chaos of life. In today’s unprecedented time, while leading Nonin Medical, Dave Hemink is creating great impact.