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UWRF students plan Holiday Donation Event despite COVID-19 restrictions

December 9, 2020

Despite the untraditional year preceding it, seven UW-River Falls students are still harnessing 2020’s season of giving. This Saturday, Dec. 12, from noon-3 p.m., Emma Clements and six of her classmates from Marketing Communications 335 will be partnering with Our Neighbors’ Place, Inc. to collect donations, offer a socially-distanced photo with Santa, and spread cheer all from the North Hall Parking Lot.

The Holiday Donation Event is intended to bring in donations for Our Neighbors’ Place, Inc. and will allow donors to catch a picture with Santa Claus, all from the safe interior of their vehicle.

Clements, a 5th-year student studying Agriculture Marketing and Communications and Event Lead Team Member, explained how this event came to fruition through her class.

“This is our project from Marketing (Communications) 335 which is Sales Promotion and Event Planning,” said Clements. “We were challenged this semester to produce an actual event with COVID and all that. We started back in September and it’s finally coming to an end in three days.”

Clements and her six group-mates spent a lot of time trying to create the best event they could.

“We went back and forth,” explained Clements. “We didn’t hit the ground running until the middle of October with this idea. We thought “It’s COVID, we have restrictions on what we can do as an event, what can we do?”

After researching different charities in the River Falls area, the group landed on Our Neighbors’ Place, Inc.

“[Professor David] Bonko said they’re a great company to work with and we did a lot of research about what they do and who they are before we reached out to them,” stated Clements. “When Abby [McDaniel (group-mate)] emailed them, we got a response in 20 minutes.”

Our Neighbors’ Place, Inc. is a charity that “cover[s] a lot of bases” according to Clements. The company’s website describes what they offer as “four programs designed to help meet basic needs with a holistic approach to strengthening families.” Those four programs include their Backpack Program, The Day Center, Transitional Housing, and the Community Closet. The Backpack Program, which provides meals for students when free and reduced lunches aren’t available, helps 95 students in River Falls.

“Before Covid, [Executive Director] Shelly [Smith] said it was a lot busier,” explained Clements. “They provide a mailing address to any homeless people and they help people get onto housing lists, they have a clinic, they have a phone, a kitchen, food, shower access, and they can work with a professional case manager to come in and help them figure things out.”

Clements explained her excitement about the event and Our Neighbors’ Place, Inc.

“Shelly, over there, is awesome,” noted Clements. “They are doing a stellar job, and they have a really cute dog that hangs out there. So anyone who goes in to talk to their case manager has a nice furry face to comfort them.”

Clements also explained how the group determined what donations they were requesting, a list of which can be found on the event’s Facebook page

“We were originally going to do a big clothing donation but after talking to Shelly, she said “we have a list of 25 things we really need” like kid-friendly snacks, fruit snacks, box Mac and cheese, Rice-A-Roni,” said Clements. “A lot of weird things like men’s socks and toothpaste which is something you might not think about but it’s what they need.”

The group pulled together sponsors from around the River Falls area to help fund the event. Sponsors are helping with the volunteer uniforms, the printing, the presentation, and the photos with Santa.

“It’s become way more than working to help a charity,” expressed Clements. “It’s pulling the small businesses in River Falls together as a group of seven students and helping people get out for a drive for a picture with Santa and maybe they’ll get hot chocolate after. Everything we want to do during the holidays but because of the pandemic, everyone might not be able to.”

This event, like many, hasn’t come without its challenges. The group was told to put their event on hold multiple times and had to wait until someone with high jurisdiction gave them the okay to continue. Talk of the event being so close gave Clements goosebumps.

“Maybe it’ll be something to smile back on,” remarked Clements. “Maybe in 20 years you’ll look back and laugh about a picture in your car with Santa as a cute little story.”

Clements also expressed her pride in her group’s creation.

“It’s something I’m going to be so proud to put on a resume,” said Clements. “Everyone is going to be proud of what we’ve produced.”

If you’d like to donate to help the River Falls community and get a picture with Santa Claus, you can stop by the Holiday Donation Express between 12-3 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 12. If you can’t make it, but still want to donate, the event’s Facebook page is accepting monetary donations.

You can visit the event’s Facebook page at www.facebook.com/HolidayDonationExpress.