In recent days, Kirsten Castillo, AWESOME’s Vice President of Engagement, has had two extra full-time jobs. She’s been in charge of coordinating the Zoom technology for AWESOME’s first Jumpstart the Transformation 2020 virtual event – a mini-Symposium on June 11. At the same time, in her hometown of Minneapolis, Kirsten and her brother, along with family and friends, organized a start-up supply chain to distribute food and other essential items to people in the neighborhoods hit hardest by the combination health, economic and social crises.
“First the pandemic – and then the economic devastation – and then the looting and destruction left people in these neighborhoods in a dire situation, with limited access to essential goods,” said Kirsten.
Before Kirsten joined AWESOME, she and her brothers were second-generation leaders of a family-owned logistics company, so they knew where to start. Valley Cartage stepped up and provided a trailer to collect and haul the goods to a distribution point. Cub Foods, UNRL and other local businesses agreed immediately to help.
A small leadership team quickly became a large group of volunteers who organized two donation drives in the East Metro area of the Twin Cities. They were overwhelmed by the community’s support and filled a truck-and-a-half with food, personal hygiene and household items, paper products, baby items and water.
The distribution event took place on Friday, June 5, in the parking lot of Cub Foods, still boarded up in a devastated area of Minneapolis where buildings have been burned down and looted. There were approximately 100 people in line more than an hour before the event was set to begin, and the expanded team of volunteers moved quickly to open early and distribute items to a steady stream of people for four hours. They also provided medical and pharmaceutical support with OTC medications, diabetes test kits, and information on alternative pharmacies. The event served approximately 2000 people.
Kirsten’s philosophy is that “we are called to serve,” and she wanted her six children to understand that lesson, too. It became a family affair, with Kirsten’s daughter coming up with the first handle for the grass roots movement: #united4changeMN which evolved to #changestartswithme because they believe every single person can make a positive impact on society and “change starts with me.”
Kirsten’s brother contacted his friend, Vikings player Kyle Rudolph, who was quick to jump in and help, and he rallied several players and coaches of the Timberwolves and Gophers. Their enthusiastic participation brought out the media and resulted in local newspaper and television coverage.
Kirsten says the organized effort will keep responding to the changing needs of Minnesotans including support for rebuilding the city’s small businesses. “These events are not just about handouts for those in need. We are there to listen, to learn, to pray and to serve one another, and then repeat. This is a movement and one we hope will spur others to take action. I’m especially grateful to #changestartswithme leaders, including Aaron Shilts, CEO of NetSPI, and Larry Fellito, Key Account Manager for FastenMaster, who have been working around the clock managing full time jobs and stepping up to help the community.” Aaron says “Rebuilding the buildings is the easy part, rebuilding the hearts of this community is the hard part.”
The mission of the initiative is: To rebuild our community physically and emotionally by assisting fellow Minnesotans who have been negatively impacted by the recent social, health and economic crises. Our goal is to listen and better understand racial inequality that exists in our state and beyond, then take action to drive long-term positive change. Change starts with me.