Southern Minnesota Businesses Give Back during Holidays

December 12, 2018

Giving back during the holiday season comes in many different forms and from many different places, but it all serves one greater purpose: building and supporting community.

Merchant’s Bank in Winona created its own giving back tradition 30 years ago. The Spaulding family and The Hideaway Coffee House and Winebar in Northfield have added it to their family gatherings since 2013. And Madonna Living Community in Rochester is offering help to dozens of families in Southern Minnesota with a new tradition this holiday season.

These businesses in Southern Minnesota are continuing their giving spirit this holiday season by offering to help supply food shelves for months, making connections with those who are alone, and providing education to families that need support.

Merchant’s Bank: 10 Days of Giving

Growing up in Winona, Jen Welch remembers the inception of 10 Days of Giving – and felt its impact on feeding those who need it the most early on.

Now Merchant’s Bank’s cash management expert, the events and adventures coordinator, and co-chair of the 10 Days of Giving committee, Welch recalls when a former teacher of hers spoke to the school about the impact a food shelf had on her life. The teacher’s parents went through a period of financial stress, and her family had to rely on a food shelf.

“I can’t imagine what it would be like to struggle every day,” Welch said. “I love seeing the community of Winona come together for this cause, to see this spirit of giving spread.”

Nearly 30 years later, the campaign has ballooned, becoming a Winona phenomenon and holiday favorite. During the 10 days of the campaign, schools, businesses, local leaders, and families band together to help their neighbors in Winona County.

But its beginnings were relatively humble.

Around the time Greg Evans was hired as Merchant Bank’s new marketing and communications coordinator in the late 1980s, the administration at the Winona branch was considering ways it could give back to the community. Organizers wanted to coordinate an event that would be memorable, helpful, and become tradition – something they could fully commit to.

Not being one to sit around without work to do, Winona native Evans picked up on this discussion and ran with it, as the bank worked through what his role, which was new to the bank, would be.

Evans reached out to Winona Volunteer Services, which offers food, clothing, and shelter help to residents in need in the Winona area. The goal was simple: educate the community about the fact that there are people who go hungry and help the service that’s helping them.

The output resulted in 15,000 pounds of food being donated to Winona Volunteer Services in the first year of 10 Days of Giving. Evans, who is now the Winona branch’s president and CEO, called the first campaign modest, as the bank was able to get some participation from local schools and businesses.

Today, Winona Volunteer Services can anticipate around 200,000 pounds of food in donations. The donations have shifted to more monetary contributions, Evans said, but they still get a significant amount of non-perishable food items. The organization utilizes the money that is donated to the event to buy food, contributing to the total pounds collected.

It’s an impact that Evans still can’t believe to this day but one he knows the community is dedicated to.

“No, I never envisioned that it would become such a community staple,” Evans said. “We wanted to become a leader; we wanted to become a catalyst. The partnerships we have with businesses and schools, that’s what drives the results.”

The impact of the event is widespread for Winona Volunteer Services, according to 18-year director Sandra Burke.

“It ensures that people who need food have a place to go. (It) makes sure no one goes hungry,” said Burke, who explained that 96 percent of Winona Volunteer Services work is funded through the local community.

During her early tenure with Winona Volunteer Services, Burke didn’t get to see the drive’s impact on the organization, but when her role shifted to where she could become more actively involved with that portion of the organization, she was blown away.

Food, Burke added, is a vital resource for the organization. Most people will come to them needing help feeding their family, and in turn, the organization can help them get started with other services they provide. Food opens that door.

The 10-day food drive is still rooted in Merchant’s Bank 30 years later. The event is coordinated and ran by committees of employees at the bank, including 2018’s co-chairs Welch and Assistant Vice President/Mortgage Lender Dawn Stenberg.

Stenberg, who isn’t from Winona but moved to the coastal community with her husband a few years ago, has seen an impact in her short tenure and was excited to get actively involved.

“Since it is home,” Stenberg said, “we want to give back to the community.”

Stenberg has helped with 10 Days of Giving in the past, but this is her first year as the co-chair. Welch has been co-chairing the event for the past five years, as the position is a natural extension of her job at Merchant’s Bank.

In addition to collecting food and money at various Winona business locations, 10 Days of Giving also hosts multiple events, Welch and Stenberg said. These include a snow village tour, an opening ceremony with children, a Santa event, a fish fry at the Elks Club, the Goodview Holiday Lighted Parade, a Culver’s giveback day, events with the Holiday Train, and a holiday concert for the hungry at Winona State University.

The once humble tradition has transformed into a large community effort, but feeding the community is rooted in simple meaning, Evans said.

“Community banking is a tremendously rewarding profession because of the difference we get to make in people’s lives,” Evans said. “It’s a great place to do business and we take great pride in doing a good job of honoring our community banking roots and the charter responsibility that we have.”

This year’s 10 Days of Giving will begin Friday, Nov. 30. Interested participants can anticipate an event nearly every day and can learn more at

Madonna Living Community’s Alzheimer’s Family Classes

Sometimes the best holiday offering is the bounty of education – and Madonna Living Community in Rochester and Byron doesn’t want to see any of their families miss out.

The community is comprised of the Madonna Towers and Meadows in Rochester, and the Madonna Summit in Byron, said Spiritual Care Director Annie Kee. Residents at the towers live in nursing, assisted, memory care, and independent living, but the care for members of the community is more than medical assistance, Kee said.

“I think, throughout our communities, we recognize that our care goes beyond the residents in our walls,” Kee said. “(We’re) not caring for an individual but for a community and just a tribe of people.”

On Nov. 17, the living community hosted Alzheimer’s Association class, geared toward families with loved ones who are living with dementia. The focus of the class was to target the already stressful holiday season and give families reminders for how to help their loved one through it.

Attendees learned techniques to help their loved one navigate the traditional minefield of the holidays, and provide them with tips on how to include their loved one in traditions.

“Even if their loved one may be dealing with dementia, that doesn’t mean they can’t be part of the many wonderful things we have during the holidays,” Kee said.

The class was offered to families for free, thanks to grant funding, Kee added.

The class is part of an ongoing effort by Madonna Living Communities, Kee said, to provide more memory and dementia care classes for residents and their families. As part of that effort, the community will host a support group for families living with dementia, which will meet the third Saturday of each month, beginning in January.

For families still struggling with how to support their loved one and enjoy their holiday season, Kee is hopeful that continued events like November’s class will help them find sense of relief.

“I’m hoping they just feel encouraged and they go out and feel maybe energized and maybe incorporate their loved ones into traditions,” Kee said. “Maybe their holidays won’t feel the same, but I hope they feel maybe at peace.”

Learn more about the Dementia Support Group and Madonna Living Communities at

Hideaway Coffee House and Winebar’s Free Holiday Dinner

The Spaulding family is taking the concept of feeding the community literally.

In 2013, Joan and Sarah Spaulding were chatting like mothers and daughters do. One of six children, Sarah had spent her whole life in her parents’ coffee shop. Coffee and the business is in their blood, their mom jokes, but that day in 2013, Sarah and Joan would start a new family tradition.

The duo decided that with Hideaway’s space, kitchen, and mass food output, they could host a holiday meal for the community. The shop was already hosting a free scone and coffee special on Thanksgiving morning, but on Christmas, they wanted to do more.

They wanted to offer meal that was for everyone and that that didn’t just feed the hungry. They wanted a meal that fed the those who were alone.

“’Why don’t we do a full-fledged Christmas dinner’,” Joan recalled being said. “We have each other. The whole idea behind it is that no one should be alone on Christmas.”

Thus was the inception of Hideaway Coffee House’s free holiday dinner. The meal features all the classic holiday fixings, like turkey, ham, potatoes, stuffing, and salads, and is complemented with conversation with local residents. Great Harvest has also partnered with the shop and provides a loaf of bread to each guest that joins for dinner.

Tables line the coffeehouse in a family style formation, snaking through the Northfield shop. The tables are decorated for the holidays, and the Spauldings work for dozens of hours beforehand to make sure the dinner is homemade for their guests.

“It’s such a joy-filled day,” Joan said.

The entire Spaulding family makes an effort to help during the day, and a handful of other volunteers offer support, Joan said. One such volunteer, she added, decided he wanted to join in because he wanted to make sure that anyone who comes in alone has someone to talk to.

As their kids have aged and added their partners to the mix, the tradition has only grown, as each kid makes an effort to be there at least for a few hours during the busy day.

It just wouldn’t be Christmas day without the dinner, Joan said.

“We love it. We absolutely love it,” Joan said. “It’s one of our favorite days. We have so much to be thankful for.”

They’ve had guests who were snowed in, couldn’t make it to their family holidays, and didn’t have any food to prepare due to last minute complications. Some diners have stopped in because their holiday plans don’t happen on Christmas Day, and they didn’t want to be alone. Others, were stuck at the hospital, praying for healing, and needed peace. And some just need a warm meal and a place to call home for a few hours.

No requirements, no explanations, and no donations are needed to come and dine – just be prepared for great food and good company.

Joan said she is amazed and appreciative of the way the community has latched onto the idea. Each year they get offers for help and donations, and some yearly diners have become close friends with one another, she said.

“The community as a whole and our customer base have taken it under their wing as well,” Sara said.

Hideaway Coffee House and Winebar will host a Christmas Day dinner this year from 1 to 5 p.m. The Spauldings are always open to donations and those that want to help. Visit for more information.


By Samantha Stetzer

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