During the pandemic, many MN businesses stepped up to help

4January 2021

During the pandemic, many MN businesses stepped up to help

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, business leaders throughout the Twin Cities donated their time and resources until it hurt, giving what they could to those in need, even as their own companies faced uncertain futures.

Then after a second gut punch when racially tinged riots left many businesses looted and damaged, many reached even deeper to help out.

Early on, large companies began halting termination of phone, TV, internet and utility services. Others donated cash to food shelves and nonprofits or redirected their supplies of personal protective equipment to medical facilities. Manufacturers retooled their shop floors to provide products in high demand, such as masks, ventilators and laser-cut protective face shields.

And then there were the nonprofits and small business owners who fed, masked and clothed their clients at a time when the pandemic and state-mandated shutdowns left their own fates in doubt.

The year 2020 will long be remembered for the grief over the thousands who died, the uncertainty of lost jobs and the isolation of orders to prevent the pandemic’s spread. Yet there were also residents looking out for their neighbors, donors who opened their wallets and volunteers who looked after their communities.

The St. Paul Area Chamber of Commerce attempted to track the good works of its members and partner organizations during the early days of the pandemic until at least mid-October. Readers contributed ideas of their own on social media. Still, the following list is by no means exhaustive.

MARCH

  • During the St. Paul teacher’s strike, Hope Breakfast Bar begins hosting free meals and food drives outside its location in the West Seventh Street area. Over the course of the pandemic, the restaurant continues feeding everyone — from police officers to protesters, hungry families to passersby — backed in part by donations to its nonprofit campaign, Give Hope.
  • The health technology association Medical Alley launches “Resource Connect,” aimed at matching tech companies with extra capacity to those who need help.
  • Delta Cargo launches charter operations to provide the safe transportation of personal protective equipment and other critical items around the globe.
  • Treadle Yard Goods in St. Paul offers free mask-making kits to DIYers, drawing a line for two blocks down Grand Avenue.

  • Within a week of statewide school closures, the Kids in Need Foundation, McDonald’s, Costco, Cub Foods, Xcel Energy and others donate thousands of dollars in school and art supplies, toys, food and toilet paper to families living in apartments in and around the Rice Street and Larpenteur Avenue area. Distribution was handled by the St. Paul Chamber’s Rice & Larpenteur Alliance.
  • Catholic Charities reaches out to St. Paul Area Chamber and east metro partners to find emergency housing for unsheltered elderly who are vulnerable to COVID-19. Efforts soon draw help from hotels — which volunteer space and hot meals — as well as Ramsey County, the city of St. Paul, the YMCA and others.
  • During state-ordered lockdowns of indoor dining at restaurants, celebrity chefs such as Justin Sutherland use their restaurants and food trucks to give away free meals and produce. Others offer free takeout meals for kids and free masks.

APRIL

  • In the three weeks leading to April 22, the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities distribute close to 35,000 meals and 1,500 academic supply/activity bags.
  • Afro Deli in St. Paul expands its free K-12 kids’ meals program. It later partners with Ramsey County on free home delivery to families in need.
  • Seven Sundays, a Minneapolis company that makes muesli cereals, donates proceeds from several weeks of online orders to Roseville-based Sheridan Story, which packs meals for schoolchildren.
  • Mille Lacs Corporate Ventures tallies it has distributed close to 5,500 meals to children and elders within communities it has a presence, including St. Paul. At the request of Catholic Charities, the company’s Intercontinental Hotel in St. Paul begins hosting 60 unsheltered adults and later offers steep discounts to health care workers.
  • Target distributes no-touch infrared forehead thermometers to Minnesota businesses at cost.

MAY

  • FilmNorth, a St. Paul-based independent filmmaking organization, establishes a relief program for film workers, including crew members.
  • Bremer Bank begins reducing or suspending mortgage loan payments, as well as offering loan deferrals, low-interest cashflow assistance loans and additional hardship assistance. A federal Paycheck Protection Program loan provider, the bank tallies it has approved more than 2,500 applications, translating to $1.3 billion in loans and 146,000 paychecks protected.
  • Comcast extends COVID-19 Response benefits for several months, halting disconnects and late fees, opening business hot spots, offering free Xfinity WiFi, pausing data plans and continuing its “Internet Essentials” program for low-income customers for free.
  • Gov. Tim Walz announces an economic council — the Critical Care Supply Working Group — to help the state stockpile essential equipment and devices. Global logistics giant C.H. Robinson, 3M, Target, Donaldson manufacturing, Ecolab, Toro, Polaris, Patterson Cos. and Mayo Clinic take part.
  • To ensure public health information gets to diverse audiences, St. Paul Neighborhood Network and Twin Cities Public Television team to provide translations of “Almanac” programs and some of the governor’s addresses in Spanish, Somali, Hmong and American Sign Language.
  • The Sanneh Foundation partners with public agencies and food security organizations to provide meals and fresh produce to over 250 families a day at the Conway Community Center in St. Paul.
  • SPIRE Credit Union organizes “SPIRE Gives Big,” a campaign to give $250,000 to 187 Minnesota businesses and charities.
  • As of May 29, Xcel Energy tallies it has donated $1.5 million to address food insecurity and other relief efforts in the eight states it serves. Xcel Energy Foundation’s campaign offering employees a 2-to-1 match on donations generates more than $450,000 in one week.

JUNE

  • Despite being damaged during the riots, Du Nord Craft Spirits recruits staff and volunteers to give away food, toiletries and other items. Owner Chris Montana starts an effort to help rebuilding efforts of fellow minority-owned businesses. They quickly raise $200,000.
  • St. Paul Midway YMCA tallies it has served more than 42,000 meals since the pandemic’s start. It opens a food shelf hub and asks for donations of supplies, volunteers and cash to share with the community.
  • U.S. Bank pledges $116 million to address social and economic inequities, including capital for African American-owned-and-operated businesses.
  • Target commits $10 million toward rebuilding efforts and advancing social justice following the riots.
  • McGough Construction pulls teams together to help businesses damaged by riots.
  • As of June 15, TST Creative Catering on St. Paul’s Dale Street tallies it has donated 2,400 meals and discounted nearly 3,000 more to those in need, including hospital staff, first responders and struggling families.
  • As public spaces, workplaces and businesses reopen, 3M and HP Inc. collaborate to share free-of-charge large-format graphics for commercial signage to communicate public health and social distancing messages.

JULY

  • Goff Public offers select communications and government relations services free to local nonprofits and advocacy organizations working to achieve racial equity.
  • Securian Financial relieves its St. Paul associates of parking fees and invites them to donate the savings to charitable causes, which the company matches. Donations have gone to Neighborhood House, Face to Face, Sanneh Foundation, NAMI, Ujamaa Place and the St. Paul Chamber’s business relief effort, WeLoveStPaul.com.

AUGUST

  • Law firms such as Ballard Spahr, Dorsey & Whitney, Fish & Richardson and Fredrikson & Byron step up or retool their pro bono work, representing individuals who say they are victims of police violence, housing discrimination and other inequities free of charge.
  • Comcast announces a $100 million multi-year program to advance social justice and equality. That includes a $500,000 cash and in-kind contribution to support business relief and rebuilding efforts in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
  • U.S. Bancorp announces a $15 million “Rebuild and Transform Fund” to support small businesses damaged by riots and help organizations that are addressing systemic and economic racial inequities.
  • Allianz Life donates $2 million to Twin Cities nonprofits, with the goal of addressing inequality for seniors, youth and people of color.
  • Hormel Foods announces it will pay tuition at a two-year college for any of its employees’ children.

SEPTEMBER

  • Milan Dennie of King Milan’s Barbershop on University Avenue in St. Paul organizes a day-long giveaway of backpacks, school supplies, hamburgers and hotdogs for students.
  • Ecolab announces $5 million toward coronavirus-related efforts, including cleaning products and financial support to nonprofits around the world.
  • The Minnesota Vikings pledge $1 million to local social justice programs related to voter education and registration, educational curriculum on racism and Black history, and law-enforcement and criminal-justice reform.
  • Target commits to increasing its Black employees by 20 percent across three years.
  • 3M pledges $50 million for racial equity initiatives, including $5 million in scholarships through the United Negro College Fund.
  • Evolve Systems of St. Paul announces it will donate a website development package to a minority-owned business.
  • Comcast and the Sanneh Foundation open one of the first “Lift Zones” — a converted gymnasium than can serve up to 140 students a day with socially distanced educational technology and WiFi for distance learning.
  • Mall of America offers temporary retail space for independent shops impacted by the riots and pandemic.
  • Wells Fargo makes $15,000 homebuying grants available to low-to-moderate income homebuyers in St. Paul and Minneapolis through “Neighborhood Lift” program.

OCTOBER

  • From late August through October, the St. Paul Grill at the St. Paul Hotel offers private dining experiences with a dedicated chef, bartender and server. The We Love St. Paul/Midway fund, which backs rebuilding efforts, receives a donation for each booking.

DECEMBER

  • Las Tortillas Mexican Restaurant in Rosemount tallies that it has donated some 7,000 free meals to school children and families, in part through the Rosemount Family Resource Center.

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