Give to the Max Day encourages charitable giving during pandemic

The annual giving event raises millions for almost 6,000 causes statewide, including organizations locally such as nonprofits like Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center Inc. and Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity that have struggled because of the cancellation of in-person fundraisers due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Andy Fry works on his future home in Baxter on Nov. 5. Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity is helping construct the new house on Clearwater Road for his family in need. Kevin Pelkey / Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity

Area organizations are asking people who can afford to donate to take part in Give to the Max Day and support their services in a year besieged by the coronavirus pandemic.

Give to the Max is a giving event that raises millions each year for almost 6,000 causes across Minnesota and beyond. The 12th annual event takes place Thursday, Nov. 19.

“In 12 years of Give to the Max Day, this year is certainly unlike any other,” said Jake Blumberg, executive director of GiveMN, a collaborative nonprofit venture to transform philanthropy in Minnesota by growing overall giving and moving more of it online.

Through this online marketplace for generosity and giving events like the annual Give to the Max Day, GiveMN has helped to generate more than $250 million for more than 12,000 nonprofits in its first 11 years, according to officials.

People can go to the website, at and search for a cause to find specific organizations they are interested in donating to, or they may come across local organizations they may not have considered, including education, animal rescue, health, housing, conservation, community, art, culture, and religion. Donors may search for the causes they care about most by name, keyword, ZIP code and more.


Give to the Max’s “Early Giving” period began Nov. 1 and continues through Give to the Max Day on Thursday, Nov. 19, with random drawings throughout for more than $100,000 in prize grants for Minnesota organizations.

“Give to the Max has always been a socially distanced fundraiser by its nature, and we’re encouraging Minnesotans to ‘Give Where You Live’ in 2020, supporting organizations in your communities, the causes you care about most and consider expanding your generosity to meet the moment this year in new ways,” Blumberg said.

“This is the season of thanks and Thanksgiving, and it’s just a great way for the state to bring attention to all the wonderful work being done around the entire swath of Minnesota,” said Kevin Pelkey, executive director of Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity, a Brainerd-based nonprofit.

This year, GiveMN is encouraging donors to #GiveWhereYouLiveMN, an effort to help communities statewide as the unprecedented challenges of this year continue.

“Right now, what we’re staying focused on is just one very basic main goal, and that is to keep our doors open to provide services to victims that need our assistance during this time,” said Shannon Wussow, executive director of Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center in Brainerd.

Kevin Pelkey, executive director of Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity (left), watches as employees of the ReStore Joe Cluever and Shawn Kinney load a couch into the back of a truck Thursday, July 30, at the ReStore on Wright Street in Brainerd. Local nonprofits are struggling to attract volunteers to their facilities during the coronavirus pandemic. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity

More than 600,000 donors have made gifts with ease and enthusiasm since 2009 through to make a difference for causes in their communities.


“I love the statewide effort to bring awareness to all of the different wonderful causes, programs and things out there. And this is a great way to do it,” said Pelkey of Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity.

Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity has seen those challenges related to the pandemic firsthand. From a slowdown in ReStore sales to prolonged build schedules, this year has been challenging. Its ReStore home improvement store on Wright Street sells salvaged goods.

“We are more committed than ever to helping families secure affordable, safe, and decent housing in the Brainerd lakes area,” Pelkey said. “While the pandemic has slowed us down, it will not deter us from our mission to help area families.”

The nonprofit aims to build strength, security and stability through shelter in Crow Wing, Cass, Hubbard and Wadena counties and the city of Staples.

“We are significantly reduced in volunteer engagement. That’s across the board in our organization, from the ReStore to office to construction,” Pelkey said of one of the challenges during the pandemic. “We’re probably operating at about 20% of our normal volunteer engagement.”

Local nonprofits count on volunteers to provide countless hours of work that would otherwise be performed with paid labor. With the number of coronavirus cases on the rise, however, volunteers are in short supply.

“The only response we had was to hire more people, so we did pay more people to operate the store. … We just wouldn’t have had enough hands to serve the customers and to manage the donations of items,” Pelkey said.


Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity/Restore employees Joe Cluever (left), Alex Greenway, and Executive Director Kevin Pelkey lift a couch into a truck at ReStore Thursday, July 30. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Volunteers are often older individuals, a demographic most at risk of dying from COVID-19 complications, so many seniors may be choosing not to volunteer rather than risk being infected by public contact and developing the potentially fatal respiratory disease.

“I completely respect and understand. That is exactly what I would ask our volunteers to do if they did not feel comfortable being in there. … But, yes, the response was that we had to hire more people, so, yes, it cost us more to operate the store,” Pelkey said.

The pandemic also means the nonprofit will complete the construction of fewer homes this year than it normally would for families in need. Construction will be completed on two homes.

“We do need the extra resources to continue to build homes because the cost of things has gone so much higher this year. There’s been a significant lumber shortage, which means all of the things that are related to lumber are dramatically more expensive than before,” he said.

The Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity ReStore sells new and used furniture, appliances and building supplies at a fraction of the retail price. All proceeds support Lakes Area Habitat for Humanity’s work building homes for local families.

“We do notice in times of need that people who can donate have been so generous because it does — it feels good to — make a difference. It is the right thing to do to make a difference if you have the capacity to do so,” Pelkey said.

Second Harvest North Central Food Bank

Second Harvest North Central Food Bank is also participating in the Give to the Max Day. The Grand Rapids-based nonprofit partnered with Essentia Health and Crow Wing Energized, earlier this year to offer free food at the Westgate Mall pop-up produce pantries.


“Second Harvest can help make sure there is food on the table for those times when money is tight. Making sure people have food is what we do best but we need your help. That is why this November 19th, Give to The Max Day, is so important,” Executive Director Susan Estee stated in a news release.

042820.N.BD. PopUpPantry3.jpg
Kelly Patton of Sourcewell (left), Heather Isle of Sourcewell and Lori Cronquist of Crow Wing County Community Services load a car with food Monday, April 27, at the Pop-Up Produce Pantry in the Westgate Mall parking lot. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Estee said this year has brought on unexpected challenges like working from home or being laid off and not working at all; no or limited in-school learning or day care for children; and, for many, having to visit their local food shelf for the first time.

“That means that thousands of people may have no idea where their next meal is coming from,” Estee said.

The nonprofit serves more than 100 hunger relief agencies in Aitkin, Cass, Crow Wing, Itasca, Koochiching, Kanabec and Mille Lacs counties in North Central Minnesota.

“Having to choose between putting food on the table, paying the electric bill or paying for other basic needs is hard no matter what time of year but during the holidays it puts an extra strain on already tight budgets,” Estee said.


Second Harvest North Central Food Bank secured $11,000 in matching funds, which will allow the nonprofit to receive $2 for every dollar donated up to $11,000 that will directly support its mission of engaging the community to end hunger.

“Our Give to the Max Day goal this year is over 100,000 meals, so schedule your gift today to take advantage of this match and help us meet our goal,” Estee said.

Second Harvest has access to thousands of pounds of produce during the growing season of July through September. The abundance of produce is largely due to the Farm to Food Shelf Program that supports donations of produce grown in the state.

“It’s harder than ever to ignore that hunger is real in our community. In north central Minnesota, 1 in 9 individuals are food insecure,” Estee said. “Second Harvest can help make sure there is food on the table for those times when money is tight.”

Produce pop-up pantries are like mini farmers markets where individuals and families gain access to fresh food they need to keep them healthy and strong, according to Second Harvest.

GiveMN is encouraging Minnesotans to come together virtually this year to share how they’ll be joining in by using #GiveWhereYouLiveMN or #GTMD20. GiveMN will have social media story templates available for download on and social media.

Shannon Wussow, executive director of Mid-Minnesota Women's Center, talks Thursday, June 25, during an anniversary celebration for the Alex and Brandon Child Safety Center, which is an arm of the women's center providing a place for safe child exchanges and supervised parental visits. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch


Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center

The center has been empowering victims of domestic violence through a variety of programs since 1978. The nonprofit provides a 24-hour intake to emergency shelter for individuals experiencing domestic violence including women, along with their children and pets, and men.

“We recognize that most people stay in an abusive home because they have nowhere else to go and because they are afraid. This will never be truer than now as we navigate this unfamiliar situation while attempting to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus,” Wussow said.

Each donation to Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center given through qualifies the local nonprofit for additional grants from the Give to the Max Day prize pool, which includes the $10,000 Give to the Max Day grand prize.

“The largest event that we had to cancel was the annual gala that we have, which was scheduled for June. Our goal was actually to have raised $40,000 for direct service support,” Wussow said of coronavirus precautions that discouraged large gatherings.

The center also provides personal advocacy, information and referral, support groups and community education.

“So anytime somebody is staying at our shelter as a resident, every single expense that is affiliated with that is covered by the organization ... utilities, food, medical care … schooling supplies … winter gear for family members,” Wussow said.

The Alex and Brandon Child Safety Center is an arm of the nonprofit that provides a safe place for child exchanges and supervised parental visits.

“This year, we have experienced significant increases in the utilization of our services. Know that when you support MMWC, you are making a difference for real families experiencing real crisis,” Wussow said.

The shelter has provided residential services this year to 410 men, women and children, and nine pets — a 45% increase from last year — and an additional 5,522 people received non-residential services from the shelter — a 15% increase from 2019, according to Wussow.

“We have had many people actually reach out to us wanting to support what it is that we do, recognizing the vital role that we play in the safety and health and overall well-being of our community,” Wussow said.

The center also provided this year 1,860 individuals, including 564 children, with supervised visitation and safe exchange services — a 27% increase from 2019 — and according to Wussow another reason to participate in Give to the Max Day.

“This was a way for us to be able to participate in something that’s very low risk and keep people safe, keep our residents safe, keep the community safe, and for people to work together and see how those donations accumulate,” Wussow said.

The Brainerd Service League is offering a $2,250 match donation for Mid-Minnesota Women’s Center’s Give To The Max Day 2020 campaign, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 1647 in Brainerd is offering a $500 matching donation.

“That actually helps our chances of making a larger impact for each donation,” Wussow said. “We are, as always, super grateful for the support our organization receives from our community so we can continue our critical work,” she said.

Give to the Max Day

To participate in Give to the Max, donors may visit and search for the causes they care about most by name, keyword, ZIP code and more.

Give to the Max’s “Early Giving” period began Nov. 1 and continues through Give to the Max Day on Thursday, Nov. 19, with random drawings throughout for more than $100,000 in prize grants for Minnesota organizations.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The weekly newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
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