‘Great Minnesota Cheer Together’ to bring joy to those isolated by pandemic

A Baxter resident created the Great Minnesota Cheer Together, a statewide holiday card collection drive. The cards will be distributed to those in nursing homes and assisted-living facilities — and to others feeling isolated because of the coronavirus pandemic — with the intent to cheer them up.

A Great Minnesota Cheer Together card collection box sits outside the front entrance of Christmas Point Wild Rice Co. in Baxter. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Weston Stradtman wanted to spread holiday cheer during the pandemic — not the coronavirus responsible for countless COVID-19 deaths.

After visiting his grandmother — who was on her deathbed in a nursing home — in the spring, the Baxter resident came up with the idea of the Great Minnesota Cheer Together, a statewide holiday card collection drive to reach those especially affected by the disease.

“I walked in there … and I could just tell how people were feeling isolated at that time. And now we’re here nine, 10 months later and people are still getting very little interaction from the outside community,” Stradtman explained.

Minnesotans are encouraged to create their own holiday cards, which will be collected at various sites throughout the state, including at Christmas Point Wild Rice Co. in Baxter.

“I wanted to put a smile on their faces, cheer them up a little, by giving them a card,” Stradtman said of the intended recipients, such as people at assisted-living facilities or those in nursing homes.


RELATED: Gift-giving program for seniors brings holiday cheer Be a Santa to a Senior is an annual program with support from local businesses, nonprofits, retailers, volunteers and community members. Local Home Instead Senior Care offices have partnered with several local retailers and nonprofits to help with gift collection and distribution.

Stradtman said his original plan was to go Christmas caroling outside of nursing homes but he had to scrap that idea because some facilities were concerned about the virus spreading.

“So I called a couple of buddies up ... trying to think of what could we do to get these people in nursing homes to perhaps enjoy this holiday season and cheer them up a little bit, and one of my buddies mentioned his kid loves making cards,” he said of how the movement originated.

The Great Minnesota Cheer Together drop boxes around the state began collecting cards Dec. 11, but more collection sites -- like this one outside of Christmas Point Wild Rice Co. in Baxter -- were added later. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Some of the Great Minnesota Cheer Together sites began collecting cards Dec. 11, but more collection sites were added as the days wore on, according to Stradtman.

“I had one individual that dropped off 40 just by himself. You could tell it was the same person who did them all,” Stradtman said of the cards.

Stradtman said he plans for some of the cards to be delivered in the Brainerd lakes area, for example, to the residents of the Edgewood assisted-living facilities in Brainerd and Baxter.


“No limit on the number of cards you can make! … It would be great for teachers to get involved and suggest to students as a way to spread kindness or business owners to give employees something to do as a change of pace,” Stradtman posted on the Facebook page for the event.

Stradtman also wrote “coins, money or confetti” should not be included in the cards and added if other nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, etc., were looking to receive some of the cards collected as part of the Great Minnesota Cheer Together, they should message him.

“I encourage you to invite/share this! The bigger we make this, the better!” Stradtman posted on Facebook.

RELATED: Research: Older people resilient, but stressed by COVID-19 isolation

Ryan St. Martin is the Hopkins/St. Louis Park varsity girls hockey coach. He said there are 36 students in the co-op team program of those two schools in Hennepin County who made a total of about 80 cards for the Great Minnesota Cheer Together.

“I think it really struck a chord with them because they could kind of relate to it and how their life has been different throughout this pandemic,” St. Martin said.

“But they kind of realize they were still fortunate. … Our high school season will still be starting in January and a lot of these folks will still probably be pretty isolated after that.”

Christmas Point Wild Rice Co. co-owner Jennifer Tihanyi allowed Stradtman to place a Great Minnesota Cheer Together card collection box outside the front entrance of the Baxter business.


“I think it’s just a wonderful gesture for all the people that are in nursing homes,” Tihanyi said of the Great Minnesota Cheer Together card collection drive and distribution program. “They’re not allowed to have visitors, so I think it might help them get through this holiday season.”

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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