It crept into some communities and dropped like a bomb in others, but the coronavirus has now touched the lives of all Wisconsinites, physically or financially. Many electric cooperative employees, deemed essential, immediately got to work looking for ways to help out friends, families, and neighbors.
Stepping up for School Kids
The pandemic hit some families hard, leaving parents out of work and students in need of supplies and food. Pierce Pepin Cooperative Services Vice President Charity Lubich and Member Relations Manager Jay Nesseth coordinated an effort with the Zion Covenant Church to make sure area kids have what they need.
Cooperative employees, armed with a list of needed items, piled up the donations for the church’s Ellsworth Backpack Program.
“I think every employee here has been stunned by both the swiftness and severity of the crisis,” said Liz Gunderson, member relations & IT administrator. “In the past, we have always participated in community-centered activities like the Christmas Gift Box program, donating winter clothing for children in need, and supporting the local food shelves. But right from the start, this felt different. Not only was there a severe economic crisis, but the health risks that caused this crisis seemed like nothing we had seen in our lifetimes.”
Dunn Energy Cooperative employees are stepping up by taking out, ordering lunch from a different local restaurant each week.
“As a business that is considered essential, we’re lucky enough to all still be working,” said Jolene Neisius, director of member and employee engagement. “If we want those small businesses on our lines to still be there when all of this passes, it’s important to support them now when we can.”
Employees have ordered from several places in the Chippewa Valley area including Loopy’s Grill and Saloon, Pioneer Tavern, and Kyote’s Den. Supporting local restaurants also supports farmers who supply the food, and are hit hard by the lack of orders from schools and restaurants that are closed. The Kyote’s Den take-out menu includes “Support Your Local Farmers” options such as grilled ham and cheese, and garlic or jalapeno cheese curds.
Support in Sight
Katie Jagiello, communications & marketing specialist at Oconto Electric Cooperative, was out taking a drive with her family to pass the time when she noticed some people had their windows decorated with various messages. “It gave me a sense of hope, that we can get through this trying time if we all pitch in and do our part to stay home and practice social distancing,” she said.
Back at the office, Katie brightened up a window with her own sign of hope, and a customer returned the favor with a show of appreciation on the front door.
“Finding the sign was very heartwarming,” Katie said. ”We are an essential business, and our members count on us to keep their power on. We want everyone to be safe and thank them for being such an awesome small-town community!”
Katie and several other co-op employees also wrapped dozens of candy bars with messages of thanks and dropped them off at the local Piggy Wiggly for store employees.
Keeping Loved Ones Connected
The safer-at-home order is especially hard for persons in assisted living, not because they can’t go out, but because loved ones cannot come to see them. This population is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.
When the administrator of Living Oaks and The Willows in Iola reached out to the community for help, Central Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Vice President Lila Shower got to work securing three iPads for residents of the facilities to use. The iPads allow them to connect face-to-face with family and friends without the risk of infection.
“One of our seven principles is commitment to community, and this is the perfect example of commitment to community,” said Shower.
—Julie Lund, photos submitted