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'Holy cow': Trempealeau County women recognized for Curds for Kids efforts

Poor weather kept an airplane from taking off to fly a banner heralding the good news in the sky over a Trempeleau County farm.

Pastor Mary Ann Bowman quickly came up with the backup plan with the help of one of Brad Goplin’s Holsteins and some red paint.

In big red numbers, “15,000” was painted on one side of a black-and-white cow.

Holding a sign for Curds for Kids — a local fundraiser created to help farmers and feed schoolchildren — Goplin stood next to his Holstein.

A camera recorded the scene for an internet program called “Returning the Favor,” which recognizes charitable people every week and presents them with a surprise reward to further their efforts.

The Internet show’s host, Mike Rowe, who also created the Discovery Channel program “Dirty Jobs,” was surprised to see the last-minute, improvised way to advertise the contribution.

“Holy cow,” he said, while on a video call with Curds for Kids creators Jackie Goplin and Beth Stay.

The duo were also surprised as the Holstein was ushered through a small group assembled in the farm field for the filming of the show that appears on Facebook. Smiling and clapping for the walking bovine billboard, the two were grateful to get the $15,000 donation to their nonprofit organization, which supplies cheese curds for school lunches in an effort to help dairy farmers and feed hungry children.

• • •

Since going live on April 8, Curds for Kids has raised more than $50,000 and has delivered about 16,500 pounds of cheese curds from plants representing 800 local farmers. Curds for Kids has distributed the curds through six Trempealeau County schools, feeding more than 3,000 kids a week, and supplies several food pantries with curds.

“It was a huge leap of faith when we started this,” Jackie Goplin said. “We had no idea if anyone had any money to give.”

But in the first two weeks of the program, Curds for Kids raised about $20,000.

“At that point, we were like, ‘We can do this. And, hopefully, we can finish the summer,’” Jackie Goplin said.

Rowe’s surprise donation would allow them to keep the program going through the summer with less focus on fundraising efforts, Goplin said.

“At the beginning, we didn’t have a big vision,” Stay said. “We were reacting to this horrible situation of farmers dumping milk coinciding with students being hungry.

“We had to do something about that. And we weren’t the only people who wanted to do something, and that’s why people have done such an incredible job of supporting us financially. All we did was provide the framework to allow the dollars to flow from the community to the dairies to the kids.”

The two women created Curds for Kids after meeting through their pastor at Peace Lutheran of Pigeon Falls.

Stay first approached Bowman about wanting to help dairy farmers who were struggling with lowered demand for milk early in the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay said it was difficult to see farmers having to dispose of milk that exceeded processors’ capacity while knowing there were children who would no longer have access to nutritious lunches when the pandemic closed schools.

Bowman recommended Stay get in touch with Jackie Goplin, whose family has been farming in Trempealeau County for six generations.

“Pastor Mary Ann is the one who put Jackie and me together,” Stay said. “We think that was a really good piece of wisdom that she contributed at the very beginning that was very pivotal.”

After the two talked and started wondering how to help, Goplin’s son, Brad, showed her a Facebook post about Rich Miller’s efforts to get cheese curds into lunches handed out by school districts in the New Richmond area. Jackie Goplin contacted Miller, who encouraged her to try to do something similar in Trempealeau County.

“He told me a little bit about what they were doing, and it was like, ‘This is perfect, this is what we need to do here,’” she said. “The more people that do it, the better for everybody.”

• • •

Curds for Kids was founded as an outreach ministry from Peach Lutheran of Pigeon Falls. Another member of Peace Lutheran, Cindy Hangartner, connected Goplin and Stay with Feed My People Food Bank in Eau Claire, which allowed Curds for Kids to create a website for taking donations.

Stay works for the Arcadia school district and Goplin works for the Whitehall school district, and both credited the time spent on the curd-donation program with helping them cope with their newfound free time following school closures.

Trempealeau County schools in Arcadia, Blair-Taylor, Independence, Galesville-Ettrick-Trempealeau, Whitehall and Osseo-Fairchild participated in Curds for Kids efforts during the remainder of the school year.

Cheese curds for the program come from Lynn Dairy in Granton, where Goplin’s son ships his milk, and from AMPI in Blair.

“Both of the dairies right from the beginning gave us a very good price,” Stay said.

The cost of the cheese curds has increased since the beginning of the program, but that’s a price Stay and Goplin said they are willing to pay.

“One of the points was to help dairy farmers, and if they’re getting more for their milk, we’re very happy about that,” Stay said.

“We’re happy to pay more,” Jackie Goplin said.

With schools out for the summer, Stay and Goplin are still delivering curds weekly to four of the six districts.

“The kids and families really like cheese curds,” Stay said. “We, along the way, have said, ‘Are you sick of this? Do you want a change? Do you want to get something different? Do you want us to take a week off?’”

The response they’ve gotten: “‘No, no, no, no. We like cheese curds,’” Stay said.

One-pound bags of cheese curds are sent each week in the bagged lunches. Families with multiple school-aged children can get more than one bag of cheese curds included with their lunches. For the week, the school lunches also include a gallon of milk per child, Goplin said.

• • •

With “Returning the Favor” Rowe honors one person each week, telling their story and setting up a surprise reward on the show that is broadcast online through Facebook Watch.

Part of what interested Rowe in telling Curds for Kids’ story was seeing the impact the economic shutdown had on the dairy industry.

“Most people can’t possibly understand what that would feel like for a farmer, to take their product and literally flush it away knowing that within 30, 40, 50 miles there are hungry people,” Rowe said during the episode. “It’s gotta be one of the great tragedies of modern agriculture.”

Stay and Goplin were in contact several times with producers of Rowe’s “Returning the Favor,” but were surprised to find out in mid-June that videographers would be arriving on the farm in two days.

“At the very end, we had a strong suspicion that we might be getting something, but we really did not know,” Stay said. “We thought we were just going to have another Zoom call with the producers.”

Pastor Bowman was the insider, coordinating between Goplin and Stay and the show’s producers. That meant when weather wouldn’t let the plane fly to reveal the $15,000 donation, Bowman had to come up with a Plan B.

“She said, ‘It’s a good thing you’re dealing with people from rural Wisconsin, because we know how to improvise,’” Stay said. “Plan B was the cow, so that was good.”

The donation will allow Curds for Kids to finish the summer by filling school lunches with cheese curds and add a couple food pantries to the donations. When school begins again, Stay said the organization should still be able to supply kitchen staff with curds to put out as snacks on the lunch lines.

Stay and Goplin said it’s remarkable hearing how grateful farmers are for their efforts and seeing the response from donors to the program.

“I think it means a lot to farmers that we are doing this,” Stay said. “Many people care deeply about the dairy farmer and so appreciate that we are helping.”

“The thing that is remarkable to me is on our donor page, all the comments of the people who are donating,” Goplin said. “People really comment on the farming aspect, ‘It’s so good to hear you’re doing something for the farmers.’

“It’s been heartwarming for me. I live on the farm, and I know it’s not easy.”

AP centerpiece
House leaders 'alarmed' federal officers policing protests

PORTLAND, Ore. — Top leaders in the U.S. House said Sunday they were “alarmed” by the Trump administration’s tactics against protesters in Portland, Oregon, and other cities, including Washington, D.C., and called on federal inspectors general investigate.

“This is a matter of utmost urgency,” wrote House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-New York, Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, D-Mississippi, and Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney, D-New York, in a letter to the inspectors general of Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security.

The Democratic lawmakers are seeking an investigation “into the use of federal law enforcement agencies by the Attorney General and the Acting Secretary of Homeland Security to suppress First Amendment protected activities in Washington, D.C., Portland, and other communities across the United States.”

The mayor of Oregon’s largest city said Sunday the presence of federal agents is exacerbating tensions in Portland, which has seen nearly two months of nightly protests since the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Democratic Mayor Ted Wheeler said federal officers “are not wanted here. We haven’t asked them here. In fact, we want them to leave.”

President Donald Trump has decried the demonstrations, and Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf blasted the protesters as “lawless anarchists” in a visit to the city on Thursday.

“We are trying to help Portland, not hurt it,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “Their leadership has, for months, lost control of the anarchists and agitators. They are missing in action. We must protect Federal property, AND OUR PEOPLE. These were not merely protesters, these are the real deal!”

Late Saturday, protesters broke into a building, set it on fire and started dumpster fires, police said.

The fire at the Portland Police Association building was put out a short time later, Portland police said on Twitter. The department declared the gathering a riot and began working to clear the area in North Portland.

“As the crowd was dispersed, several people in the crowd were arrested and officers were able to extinguish the fire. Portland Police did not use any CS gas,” the bureau said in a statement early Sunday.

Police said protesters had first gathered at the Portland Police Bureau’s North Precinct, vandalizing patrol vehicles and taunting officers as they reported for work. Police dispersed the group, which then went to the Portland Police Association building.

Tear gas was deployed against another group of demonstrators near the federal courthouse in downtown Portland on Saturday night, the Oregonian/Oregon Live reported. Fencing that had been placed around the courthouse had also been removed by protesters and made into barricades, police tweeted.

Before the aggressive language and action from federal officials, the unrest had frustrated Wheeler and other local authorities, who had said a small cadre of violent activists were drowning out the message of peaceful protesters in the city. But Wheeler said the federal presence in the city is now exacerbating a tense situation.

“What we’re seeing is a blatant abuse of police tactics by the federal government, Wheeler said Sunday.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum sued Homeland Security and the Marshals Service in federal court late Friday. The complaint said unidentified federal agents have grabbed people off Portland’s streets “without warning or explanation, without a warrant, and without providing any way to determine who is directing this action.”

Rosenblum said she was seeking a temporary restraining order to “immediately stop federal authorities from unlawfully detaining Oregonians.”

However, federal officers and Portland police advanced simultaneously on demonstrators to clear the streets early Saturday, making arrests as protesters threw bottles and pieces of metal fencing.

The action by Portland’s police was condemned by Jo Ann Hardesty, a prominent member of the City Council. Hardesty said Saturday that local police “joined in the aggressive clampdown of peaceful protest.”

Hardesty also slammed Wheeler, telling the mayor he needed to better control local law enforcement. Hardesty, who oversees the city’s fire department and other first-responder agencies, said in an open letter to Wheeler if “you can’t control the police, give me the Portland Police Bureau.”

In a statement Saturday, Portland Police said as they responded to the overnight protests some federal agencies took action “under their own supervision and direction.” Portland Police said city officers arrested seven people, and one officer sustained a minor injury.

AP centerpiece
As pandemic surges, election officials seek poll workers

CHARLESTON, W. Va. — Wanted: Poll workers willing to brave a global pandemic in November.

Governments across the country are scrambling to find people to staff polling places for the presidential election this fall as the coronavirus sows doubt about how safe it will be to cast a ballot in person and thins out an already scarce pool of workers.

Recruitment efforts are increasingly targeting younger people, who are less at risk of developing serious illness from the virus, as officials and advocates aim strategies toward professional associations, students and sports teams to make sure election sites stay open. Still, a big unknown remains.

“Everything having to do with this election will be determined by where we are with the virus, and obviously, indicators are not very encouraging,” said Neil Albrecht, former executive director of the Milwaukee election commission, which had worker shortages and was forced to shutter all but five of the city’s 180 polling places earlier this year.

Experts say finding enough poll workers is always difficult, even when there isn’t a pandemic killing thousands of people, forcing widespread shutdowns and spawning a series of evolving safety rules. Normally, long hours, low pay and lots of stress might keep folks away. Now add face shields, protective barriers and fears of getting sick.

More than two-thirds of poll workers are over age 61, putting them at higher risk of the COVID-19 disease. Scores of workers dropped out during this year’s primary season, taking with them decades of experience as the pandemic stifled efforts to train replacements.

Richard Dayton, 68, has been a poll worker for five years in Columbus, Ohio, but decided not to work the state’s primary over concerns about the pandemic. He’s not yet certain whether he’ll be staffing an election site in the fall.

“I’m not a young man anymore, and I have to look out for my health,” he said.

State and local elections officials hope to have their recruiting and polling place staffing in place well before Election Day in November. In primaries held during the initial coronavirus outbreak, some polling places were late to open after poll workers failed to report.

“If on Election Day morning people just weren’t showing up for work, that would be among the worst case scenarios,” said Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

Local governments are typically responsible for recruiting poll workers, but states have been stepping in as the pandemic exacerbates an already fragile system. Some states are partnering with professional organizations such as real estate commissions and state bar associations to have their members staff the polls in exchange for continuing education credits. Ohio has a program to encourage high schoolers to work election sites.

In Georgia, local election officials and the Atlanta Hawks have announced they will use the NBA team’s arena as an early voting site for a primary runoff in August, and will train stadium and team staffers to be election workers. Other sports teams are moving forward with or are considering similar measures.

West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner has urged young people to work the polls as a call-to-arms similar to joining the military after the 9/11 terror attacks.

“What that poll worker effort does is it keeps those options to vote open,” he said, adding that officials have been reaching out to county clerks, civic groups, rotary clubs, athletic teams and other groups.

Kayleigh Bergh, a 23-year-old recent college graduate from Haverhill, Massachusetts, plans to work a polling place this November. She said her decision to do so was about stepping up during a pandemic and getting politically engaged. Plus, she said, it doesn’t look bad on a resume.

“I want to help the state and make everything better since I know my generation is going to take over at some point,” said Bergh, adding that she’s been trying to recruit friends who have been furloughed from their jobs.

Advocacy groups also are mobilizing.

Scott Duncombe of Power the Polls, a newly formed poll worker recruitment group that includes Comedy Central, Levi Strauss & Co., the Fair Elections Center, Uber and several other organizations, said it plans to flood digital media, offer incentives for poll workers and have companies encourage staffers to volunteer. Duncombe said the group will gear a lot of its campaign toward young people, hoping that it can harness the nation’s recent political activism into civic duty.

“This is really the first step to make sure the government and civic life looks like us and feels like us,” he said of becoming a poll worker.

Election officials said making sure poll workers feel safe on the job is key to the recruitment effort. Mary Cringan is a 65-year-old retired school principal in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, who has worked the polls in just about every election over the last five years. She plans to wear a mask when she staffs a polling place later this year.

“I would just hate to have the scare of health not allow people to go out and exercise their right to vote,” she said. “The clerks in all the cities and towns have their work cut out for them.”