Volunteers swarmed around the Rice Lake Public Library like busy little bees Friday and Saturday to plant perennials, wild flowers and grasses, and ferns to attract — well, bees, plus birds, mammals and any other creature that could be enticed to pollinate plants near and far.
Norm and Margaret Engstrom of Rice Lake donated $50,000 they had received from Foster Friess to the Rotary Club to fund community projects.
One of four projects the Rotary Club decided to back was Kim Cobb’s plan to plant a pollinator garden at the library. She said she had been driving by, looked at the area surrounding the building and thought, “This could do with some sprucing up.”
Cobb, an avid gardener, tapped Amanda Kostner, who specializes in shoreline restoration, to plan the garden. She chose a variety of pollinators, and on Friday volunteer work began in earnest to plant 591 on the 1,142 square feet of land.
The plants will take two to three seasons to reach full maturity, but Kostner chose varieties that would bloom at different times of the summer, so something should be in color all summer. And one native plant will grow to be 5 to 6 feet tall, giving the garden some height.
The Engstroms stopped by the library Friday to see Kostner, Cobb and Claire Parrish, the library’s public services director, hard at work with Rotary volunteers Ellyn, Ava and Marlene Gargulak, Ryan Urban and Barb Ritzinger prepping the garden and planting the perennials.
Norm Engstrom said they were happy to give the money to the Rotary Club and thrilled by the plans for the pollinator garden.
“I’m pleased to be able to pass the money on to them because they do great work,” he said.
Margaret Engstrom added the couple had been fortunate to be friends with the Friesses for more than 70 years and have the opportunity to pass donations along to the Rice Lake community.
Once the garden is installed, the library plans to reseed the courtyard with grass and place brand-new picnic tables and signs explaining why pollinator plants are important to the environment, Parrish said. The outdoors area will be devoted to library programs and community use.
Kostner said the Rotary Club has committed to maintaining the pollinators, and Cobb said the project reflects several of the causes Rotary International backs, including environmental and educational pursuits.
Other funds for the project came from a Rotary District 5060 grant, a donation from the Barron County Sunrise Rotary Club and the Rice Lake Public Library.
Transitional housing is sorely lacking in Barron County. Actually, it’s nonexistent, according to the Barron County Economic Development Corp. executive director. But that will change come winter after the Salvation Army opens The Family House in an old nursing home west of Barron.
Last week the Salvation Army closed on the property in the countryside on Highway TT to the south of Highway 8 a few miles outside of the county seat. Duana Bremer, the Salvation Army director for St. Croix, Polk and Burnett counties, first heard about the abandoned buildings from the Turtle Lake Police Department.
Bremer contacted the bank about buying it, but she faced a daunting hurdle.
“To be honest with you, I had absolutely no money,” she said.
Bremer began pursuing government funds, and Barron County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director David Armstrong proved to be an important ally in obtaining Community Development Block Grant COVID dollars.
Saying there’s no place for people who can’t enter into a normal renter/landlord relationship, or who are leaving jail or addiction treatment, Armstrong had been searching for a partner to bring transitional housing to Barron County for five years.
“It’s so badly needed right now,” Armstrong said.
The Salvation Army received $525,000 in CDBG funds plus $200,000 from Foster Friess, which was enough to buy the building, fund future renovations and cover operations for a little while. Although important steps, that’s only a fraction of the work the Salvation Army faces now to actually open the doors to transitional housing and emergency shelter.
“There is a lot more work that needs to be done that we hadn’t anticipated,” Bremer said.
The Salvation Army wants to renovate the building to provide transitional housing for about 14 people, from male and female individuals to families who can’t find a home. Tenants would pay rent, probably around 30% of income, and they could come from a variety of backgrounds and circumstances, Bremer said.
“It wouldn’t be people just from our shelter, it would be people from other shelters and we will be taking referrals from the department of corrections,” she said.
The Salvation Army Service Center will also provide case management and housing navigation, plus the organization will open the facility to the homeless who don’t want to spend the night but seek a shower, laundry and a hot meal.
But the place is a mess and requires a great deal of work from cleaning to plumbing and the installation of a sprinkler system. The showers and bathrooms need extensive work, and Bremer wants to install toilets and sinks in the rooms that don’t have the amenities at this time.
A second, smaller house next to the old nursing room has been completely gutted, but Bremer sees renovating it into emergency shelter for families as the bedrooms are large and can accommodate more than one bed. Plus there’s a small kitchen area for moms to make simple but hot meals if their kids want one.
The grounds are also on Bremer’s to-do list, especially because they could provide a peaceful haven for residents suffering from mental health disorders.
“The gardens could be beautiful, but they need tender loving care,” she said.
While the Salvation Army had hoped to open the new service center in October, that simply isn’t going to happen, Bremer said.
But ready or not the need to help the homeless continues to exist, so Bremer is making a contingency plan now that the opening has been pushed to mid-winter. She hopes to contract with a motel owner in Barron to rent three rooms for the season, while continuing to provide case management and food, and open the service center every other day.
In the meantime the Salvation Army will provide rent, utility and transportation assistance. Once the transitional housing opens, Bremer trusts residents to car pool to get themselves to their jobs and the service center has a fleet vehicle to help with transportation.
The Family House will need a number of volunteers to get it up and running and maintain it in the future. The buildings need a good cleaning, and the Salvation Army is looking for people to answer phones and bring in evening meals. A good handyman to perform minor repairs wouldn’t go amiss, either.
And needless to say furnishing the rooms will be a top priority. Bremer said the Salvation Army hopes groups will sponsor a room — she noted several churches had already stepped up to the plate — and people will donate either new or gently used furniture in good repair.
For more information on donating to the Salvation Army Service Center or signing on as a volunteer, contact Angela Moulton at 715-497-4438, or visit centralusa.salvationarmy.org/barroncounty or facebook.com/BarronSalvationArmy.
For people who have been exposed to COVID-19, it is important to understand how the disease is spread in order to know what to do, especially as the number of new cases continues to climb each week.
Barron County Public Health reported on July 26 a total of five new cases over the previous week. The following week there were 24 new cases, and then 41 were counted on Aug. 9.
On Monday, the number of new cases reached 77, and 18 of the patients had been fully vaccinated. So far 20,829 Barron County residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine, representing 46% of the population.
Barron County’s risk level is back at accelerated spread with 10 to 24 cases per 100,000 people.
COVID-19 can start from two to 14 days after a person has been close to someone with the illness. Most people will start to feel sick in three to five days. People who are infected can spread the illness up to two days before showing symptoms.
This is why Barron County Public Health asks people who have been in close contact with someone who has COVID-19 to stay home or quarantine. Close contact means they were within 6 feet of someone for 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period.
For people who have not been vaccinated, there are three possible quarantines: seven, 10 and 14 days. A 14-day quarantine is considered the safest for the community. Some people may be eligible for shortened quarantines: seven days with no symptoms and a negative test on day six or seven, or 10 days with no test and no symptoms. With both shortened quarantines Public Health asks people to always wear a mask, stay 6 feet away from others, and stay home and get a test if any symptoms start for the full 14 days. If possible, stay away from people in the household, especially people who are at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19.
People who have been fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine after close contact with someone who had COVID-19 unless they have symptoms. Fully vaccinated people should get tested three to five days after their exposure, even if they don’t have symptoms. They should also wear a mask indoors in public for 14 days following exposure or until their test result is negative.
Barron County Public Health offers free Pfizer vaccines for those 12 and older and Johnson and Johnson vaccines for those 18 and older.
Vaccines are available Monday-Friday at the Government Center in Barron. Call 715-537-5691, ext. 6442, for more information. People can also call their doctor or clinic to schedule an appointment for a vaccine. Many pharmacies in the area are also offering free vaccines including Walgreens and Walmart in Rice Lake and CVS in Barron.
All COVID-19 vaccines are completely free of charge with no insurance needed. To find a vaccine visit vaccines.gov.
For more information on quarantine visit cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/quarantine.html.