Posts Tagged: luther college

Live Generously: Carolyn Flaskerud

Carolyn FlaskerudCarolyn Flaskerud, director of the First Lutheran Church Food Pantry in Decorah, does not mince words. “It keeps me busy – happy and healthy,” the octogenarian says of her involvement in the expansion of the Food Pantry – it’s gone from supporting seven families per week to sometimes 250. She punctuates her statements with a smile – one that locals came to trust during her years as a customer service officer for what is now Bank of the West.

Carolyn has been boots on the ground for the Pantry since her retirement in 1998, when her involvement with Decorah Public Library’s Retired & Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) and her service on First Lutheran Church committees revealed a desperate need for food support in the area. “Getting people in the door in dignified ways is hard for any community,” she explains. People who turn up for state-run food assistance are subject to income verification and other eligibility requirements that can delay the receipt of food.

“These are people who are hungry today, not just when they might be approved. It’s families with children – who don’t learn well at all when they’re hungry – and also elders, who sometimes choose between medicines and food – the ‘heating or eating season’ in winter.”

Carolyn’s specialty, it seems, is turning even the smallest leads into working opportunities for the pantry. In 2003, responding to unemployment in the aftermath of a fire that destroyed a turkey plant in Postville, Iowa, she pushed to get the volunteer-run charity, then operating out of a Sunday School storage closet, registered with the Northeast Iowa Food Bank. This made the pantry eligible to receive high-volume weekly shipments of groceries that are over-produced or nearing expiration date, for example.

Today, the pantry also receives donations from area businesses: Walmart’s Feeding America program, Kwik Star, and Pizza Hut, for example. Many donations also reduce food waste by institutions, such as Decorah’s Luther College. There, college and community volunteers portion-pack leftover cafeteria foods – many of which feature locally grown ingredients – to be stocked at the pantry as frozen meals.

The pantry also collects nonperishable foods from the college dorms, when students are in transition, and has partnered with Luther foodservice provider, Sodexo, to use donated student dining dollars – discretionary money left on the students’ board plans – to purchase 2,700 pounds of rice, beans, pasta, and other staples. “That was the idea of a local student, Blaise Schaeffer, who grew up right across the street from the church,” Carolyn explains. “He told me to iron out the logistics of ordering through Sodexo, and he hit the dorms, rounding up $2,915.99 in student donations.” Carolyn, ever the precise funds manager, rattles off this figure like it’s as familiar as her favorite loafers.

To keep pace with community needs and reduce the stigma of accepting food help, the pantry is savvy with its cash donations, Carolyn says, funding new outreach and visibility whenever possible. 2015 marked the first year of a voucher program that allowed pantry shoppers to buy subsidized produce, fruit, meat, eggs, and honey from Oneota Community Farmers’ Market vendors in downtown Decorah. “Credit there should be given to [Decorah resident] Barb Dale and others,” Carolyn says. “We just made it work last year, and we do need special funding to run the program again.”

In all, the First Lutheran Food Pantry involves 70 or more dedicated volunteers who unload trucks, stock shelves, and assist families in maximizing their weekly product selections, from frozen venison to pureed baby foods. They accept donations of food, time, and financial support. “You can mail it, drop it off, or goodness knows, we’d come pick it up,” Carolyn says, tireless on the subject of her work. “We’ve certainly done that before, and God willing, we’ll keep at it.” – by Kristine Jepsen

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Live Generously: Larry Grimstad

Larry Grimstad“I’m just a banker with a passion for renewable energy,” Larry Grimstad says, in typical humble fashion.

In truth, the longtime Decorah resident is much more than that. He’s a highly respected community leader who has spent well more than a decade working to reduce his carbon footprint on the world and educate others on the importance of doing the same.

“We need renewable energy – wind, solar, and geothermal – and some of us have just got to take the initiative so others will come along,” he told the Des Moines Register in 2012 when asked about his efforts to promote environmental sustainability in Winneshiek County.

Larry, who served as president of Decorah Bank and Trust from 1978 to 2002, put those words into action three years ago when, through his company Decorah Solar Field, he partnered financially with Luther College to erect a $1.2 million array of 1,250 solar panels along Pole Line Road on the north edge of the college’s campus. The eye-catching array provides the bulk of the electricity used by Baker Village, a student-housing cluster that also uses clean energy (geothermal) for heating and cooling.

“I spent my career as a community banker so it’s a natural thing to figure out ways to help build good things for the community,” he says of investing in the array. “The more of that you do, the more you to want to do even more.”

Not surprisingly, Larry is just as generous with his time. He currently serves as board treasurer of four organizations – First Lutheran Church, Seed Savers Exchange, the Oneota Film Festival, and the Winneshiek Energy District – while also participating in events like the recent Decorah Energy Extravaganza that help educate the community about the myriad benefits of clean energy. The event showcased 10 solar-powered homes, including the one he built with his wife, Diane, in the early 2000s.

“It’s my responsibility to my grandchildren,” he replies when asked what drives his seemingly tireless efforts to leave this place in better shape than when he found it. “I have to do what is right for them and their generation.”

– by Sara Friedl-PutnamLarryGrimstadGraphic

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Live Generously: Mark Faldet

Mark FaldetIt’s easy to let fifth-generation Decorah native Mark Faldet fool you: He’s the kind of guy who, having traveled the region for work at Luther College for 30 years, could tell you – down to the last left-hand turn – how to get to the best pulled-pork sandwich shop in Iowa. BUT, he himself has never lived more than a mile as the crow flies from his childhood home, a farm on the first crest of Locust Road. In fact, he’s never been away from Decorah for more than 13 consecutive days in his 60-ish years. “It was never my intention,” he says, “but it’s been a pretty good bit of luck, or fate.”

Mark’s was perhaps the hardest interview to procure in this series, thoroughly convinced as he was that none of his volunteerism would warrant this kind of attention. Though in many ways, his under-sung turns of community service are among the most accessible – the smallest of gestures that make a small town thrive.

Some will recognize him as a long-time member of Decorah’s city Tree Board, a division of the street department that oversees the planting and maintenance of the town’s majestic boulevard trees. Others cite him as a regular visitor to the area’s nursing homes, where he knows and is known by the generations that created the fabric of his childhood. Through his high school years, his extended family celebrated every aunt, uncle, and cousin’s birthday together.

And still others have seen Mark pushing a self-fashioned broom/pan contraption down Water Street after the annual Nordic Fest parade, taking some of the back-breaking work out of scouring for candy wrappers, paper decorations, and other debris. When it looks like rain, he’s cleaning leaves and branches out of storm drains in his Broadway neighborhood, where he’s lived for 28 years. And when the snowmelt pools and freezes on the sidewalks in spring, he’s been known to scrape and salt his block, then the next, and sometimes the next.

“To stay in the town you grew up in is in many ways a lot harder than moving away to ‘grow up,’” he says, his eyebrows shooting up in reference to youthful antics he had to live down as he matured. “There’s something about the way people in a community like this still depend on each other that compels them to do right by each other, to give back more freely. It’s understood: you don’t give away what you expect to get back – you can always tell the newcomers by this, you know? – but in return, you get a community with the right balance of understanding and generosity and forgiveness. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” – by Kristine Jepsen

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