UNITED RELIEF: Chippewa Valley’s Grassroots Effort Aids Minneapolis
When Minneapolis burned in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by city police just weeks ago and protests, riots, and uprisings spread throughout the country, it left a lot of vulnerable folks in the city displaced. Family businesses were destroyed, neighborhoods were boarded up, and food deserts grew by the moment.
Eau Claire and the Twin Cities have been intertwined for years. Here in the Valley, we take their hints on everything from culture to food to business and lot of life in between. And it’s our proximity to the heart of the city, and our willingness to contribute, that puts us in a very unique position to help.
“It’s our city. That’s where we go to shows, that’s where we go shopping. … We’re not very removed from what’s happening there,” said Jake Lindgren, a volunteer and co-organizer of Chippewa Valley United Relief Efforts, an independent grassroots supply donation organization that has sprung up here in Eau Claire. “Of course I’m going to be there.”
“It just shows you that we can do things for each other very simply and not jump through a million hoops. This is a visceral, tangible way to help.” –Serena Wagner, Chippewa Valley United Relief Efforts volunteer
The CVURE came together very quickly and somewhat serendipitously at the beginning of June, as individuals such as Lindgren and Serena Wagner, who owns Odd Humyns in downtown Eau Claire, watched the chaos unfold and started connecting with local folks on ways to help.
Wagner had set up some donation drop-offs and supply runs through Odd Humyns, SHIFT Cyclery + Coffee Bar had similar plans set up, and Lindgren was doing his own runs individually. That’s when Rita Dorsey, general manager of The Lismore, reached out and offered up a big section of the hotel’s ballroom space to house donations, provide a secure spot where people can drop supplies off, and load vehicles for trips to the Twin Cities. Dorsey had previously helped organize grassroots relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy.
In a matter of days, The Lismore ballroom was filling up with donations, and about 40 volunteers had signed on to help transport supplies to the city, sanitize donated goods, and keep the ballroom organized and efficient.
A Google doc was circulating widely with a list of items needed such as diapers, nonperishable food, water, personal protective equipment, first aid kits, medicine, hygiene, household items, and more.
On Saturdays, donations of fresh vegetables were even coming in from the farmers market in Phoenix Park. One day, the CVURE sent six carloads to different locations in Minneapolis.
“It just shows you that we can do things for each other very simply and not jump through a million hoops,” Wagner said. “This is a visceral, tangible way to help.”
“It’s been really humbling to see how EC has shown up,” Lindgren added.
As for where the donations go: Well, it’s changing everyday. The CVURE uses the Twin Cities Mutual Aid map, which is an online platform of various Twin Cities donation centers’ needs. It’s updated constantly, so organizers here in Eau Claire have to be on their toes when sending which supplies where.
“It’s between churches and community centers, retail spaces and art studios, gyms …” Wagner said. “Sometimes we have to pivot really quickly.”
That’s why the fast-paced nature of this kind of organizing lends itself to the tools of social media. It’s the quickest way to get the word out about what supplies are needed.
“That’s the crazy thing to me,” Lindgren said. “This is the first time, for me, that social media has actually been a valuable resource.”
The nature of all this happening during a worldwide pandemic, it should be noted, is somewhat of a boon for this kind of organizing. Many of the CVURE’s most active volunteers are folks who aren’t working 40 hours a week because of COVID, and can pivot to focus on this kind of activism. Moreover, The Lismore’s ballroom was vacant, so why not use it for something like this? In the Twin Cities, many drop-off locations are cafés, breweries, and other businesses shuttered as a result of the pandemic. And for what it’s worth, all CVURE volunteers are masked, and everything that’s donated is thoroughly sanitized before being loaded up and sent.
In these wild times, it should be a bit of a comfort seeing our communities come together like this. Even during the most challenging of days, that spark of a willingness to help out those who need it is ever present. It’s moving fast and supplies are going out quickly, but organizers say we’re really in it for the long haul. This is a long game, and the CVURE is anticipating a need for steady donations through the end of the summer.
Organizers hope to inspire folks to make buying some items for the donation drive a regular part of their shopping routines.
They’ll be at The Lismore to pick them up …
To donate monetarily to the cause, donations are being directed to the Eau Claire Justice League (Venmo: @ECJusticeLeague). Donations are accepted at The Lismore Banquet Halls, 333 Gibson St., in downtown Eau Claire 2-8pm Tuesday through Saturday. A complete list of needed items can be found in this Google document compiled by CVURE. As of June 23, the list included the following:
Dry soup mixes
Fresh fruit + veggies
Diapers (all sizes)
Diaper rash cream
Shampoo (coconut based)
Cream of Nature
Olive Oil Miracle
Pads + Tampons
Large ponytail holders
Doggy poo bags
Portable phone chargers
Prepaid Phone Cards
Safer Use Kits
Allergy meds (Benadryl/Claritin)
OTC meds + creams