By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN The Lester Prairie Community Chest has been supporting good causes in the community since 1970.
The organization was formed so residents would not have 10 people coming to the door soliciting funds for different charitable organizations, President Dale Mensing said.
It was also intended to help prevent so many mailings soliciting funds.
The community chest was set up to provide a way for residents to contribute to a variety of organizations without having to write out multiple checks, or keep track of when they last contributed to each organization.
The community chest is made up of a six-person board of directors who set goals and decide how money will be spent.
Each year, the board conducts an organizational meeting the last Monday in August.
During that meeting, the board establishes the fundraising goal for the year.
The community chest collects all of its donations during a door-to-door fundraising drive for one week each fall, usually in mid-October.
The community chest uses the help of solicitors in each neighborhood to go around requesting donations.
“Over the years, we got to know who lived in each house,” Board Member Margie Hermann said.
Some of the volunteers have participated in the fundraising effort for many years, she added.
The solicitors turn in their envelopes of donations at the end of the week.
Then, the board has another meeting in November to determine if the organization reached its goal, and to distribute the funds.
The donation forms include a checklist of organizations. People who donate to the community chest have the option to check off which organizations they want their donation to go to, although many people simply ask the community chest to decide how the funds will be allocated.
Some people write in the names of other charitable organizations they would like their donation to go to, and the board takes these requests into account, and will check out the requested charity.
Mensing said all of the organizations that the community chest supports have been screened.
The group uses information provided by the charities review board to make sure they money collected is used appropriately.
The group also looks at the percentage of funds that go to the end user, compared to what percentage goes to administration.
The community chest itself has almost no overhead costs.
All of the work is done by volunteers.
The only expenses are the postage stamps used to send funds to the various charities, an occasional box of envelopes, and the cost of the donation forms which are printed every couple of years. The rest of the money collected goes directly to the charities specified.
The board members acknowledged that it can be difficult to catch people at home.
Solicitors will often make two visits, and if they don’t find anyone at home, they may leave a donation form and envelope and ask those who want to make a donation to drop it off at First Community Bank Lester Prairie.
One of the options on the donation list is the local emergency fund.
This fund is used specifically to help residents of Lester Prairie.
“It has been used to help people who have had fires, significant medical expenses, or anyone in the community who we feel needs to have a boost to help them,” Hermann commented.
Funds have been donated to families who lost their home in a fire, and to a resident who had a heart transplant.
One benefit of the having a local organization is that it is able to respond quickly in an emergency. In one case where a family lost its home in a house fire overnight, Board Member Ralph Machemehl was on the scene by 10 a.m. with a check for the homeowner to help the family with living expenses.
If one board member hears about someone who needs emergency help, it is simply a matter of calling the other board members. If the board approves, and if there is money in the fund, a check can be issued right away.
“It (the local emergency fund) has benefitted a lot of people,” Hermann said.
The current board consists of Mensing, Bettcher, Hermann, Machemehl, Ethel Emich, and Miriam Jilek.
All of them have served for many years. Bettcher, who has been on the board for 17 years, described herself as the newcomer to the group.
Machemehl, Emich, and Jilek have indicated that they plan to retire from the board soon.
The board has asked for volunteers to join the group to keep the organization going, but no one has stepped forward.
The board has had a preliminary discussion with Chris Schultz, a board member of the McLeod County United Way.
The community chest has agreed to investigate the possibility of a partnership with the United Way.
The group does not want to give up its Lester Prairie identity or the local emergency fund, but there may be ways the two organizations can work together.
Schultz said the details of what the partnership might involve have not yet been determined.
“We need to find effective ways to reach every resident of McLeod County,” Schultz said. “A partnership (with the community chest) at any level is a perfect one, in my opinion.”
Schultz said he does not want the community chest to lose its local identity, and he believes a partnership could benefit both groups.
“If there is a resource there, let’s use that resource,” Schultz said, explaining the United Way’s attitude toward dealing with local groups that are already established.
Whatever happens, the board of the Lester Prairie Community Chest expressed a commitment to continuing to serve the residents of Lester Prairie.
Any questions about the organization can be directed to Dale Mensing (320) 395-2715.
A wide range of affiliations
The list of organizations/causes that receive support from the Lester Prairie Community Chest include:
• American Rehabilitation Foundation
• Arthritis & Rheumatism
• Viking Council (Boy Scouts)
• Children’s Home Society
• Crippled Children & Adults
• Local emergency fund
• Adult Training and Rehabilitation Center
• Cystic Fibrosis
• National Kidney Foundation
• Multiple sclerosis
• McLeod Alliance for Victims of Domestic Violence
• Minnesota Heart Association (McLeod County)
• American Cancer Society
• Minnesota Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC)
• Salvation Army
• Peacepipe Girl Scout Council
• American Red Cross
• Muscular Dystrophy