In any given year, the Isle Lions are frequent contributors to the town community, and their donations regularly flow into area institutions. However, the circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic have changed how communities worldwide have had to operate. The Isle Lions have continued to serve as community caretakers amid the pandemic, and club president Doug Halvorson spoke with the Messenger on what those initiatives have looked like this past year.
The Isle Lions club celebrated their 50th anniversary this past month, as the club was founded on Jan. 11, 1971, and its charter night was held March 13, 1971. Over the past 50 years, the Lions community support has included donations to the school, ranging from sponsoring individual teachers’ classrooms and donations toward needed equipment. The Lions have also been sponsors of the school’s after prom party.
The Lions regularly contribute to the Herb S. Nyquist Scholarship fund, founded in 1988. This fund provides scholarships ranging from $250 to $3,000 for Isle students pursuing attendance at four-year colleges or technical school programs.
The Lions regularly sponsor a variety of community events, including the Isle Lions Easter Egg Hunt, The Isle Lions Community Corn Feed, and the Isle Days celebration. At Isle Days alone, they sponsor the Little Miss and Commodore pageant, the car show, the kiddie parade and the Milaca Alumni Band’s participation in the Isle Days Grand Parade.
Much of the Lions’ community donations are generated through their charitable gambling fund. Including raffles, Bingo and pull tabs run through the Isle Municipal Liquor Store, the Lions donate 100 percent of these funds back into the community. Since the fund’s establishment, Halvorson said, about $1.4 million have been raised by the Lions and distributed back into the community. In addition to the above causes, these donations have also gone toward local youth programming, like the Boys Scouts and Girls Scouts, KidSight Vision Screening, the Shrine Circus, and youth sports; community initiatives, like the Isle Recreation and Education Center, the city park, the Isle Police Department, the Mille Lacs Community Library, and the Mille Lacs Historical Society; health and senior initiatives, like the Isle Clinic, the Isle Ambulance, the Mille Lacs Health System and VFW Honor Guard; and many other community functions and causes.
THE COVID ERA
Halvorson noted that many of the usual events the Lions sponsor and contribute to, like the Easter Egg Hunt, Isle Days, and the Corn Feed, have still had to be cancelled this past year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In lieu of these happenings, he pointed to other ways the Lions have been contributing to the community over the past year. In July, the Lions helped organize a local blood drive that brought in 60 units of donated blood. “Obviously, that helps with people who are in the hospital, and so on,” Halvorson said.
The Isle Lions have also made $1,000 donations to both the Isle Food Shelf in town and to the food shelf based in Isle High School. Additionally, the Lions have shopped for food and other personal care items that they donated to the school’s food shelf.
While the Lions usually put on a Secret Santa gift market through the school, this year, they distributed Christmas gift bags to every student between pre-K and sixth grade instead. These bags included a small toy, some age appropriate books, pencils and other school supplies, and candies, “just little gift items,” Halvorson said.
Halvorson saw these gift bags as a practice that could be carried forward beyond the pandemic. While the Lions Easter Egg Hunt would once again not be happening, Halvorson suspected that distributing Easter gift bags to local children would be part of this year’s celebration. “The kids liked it,” he said. “It’s a nice activity for us, and it’s a benefit to the kids, so we will probably continue it.”
Another usual Christmas tradition for the Lions is the Tree of Giving for the elderly residents at the Isle View Apartments, bringing in an assortment of gifts to the residents from the community. This year, the Lions supplied all the residents with warm blankets, as well as blankets for residents at Scandia House Assisted Living.
In a normal year, the Lions convene both for a monthly dinner meeting and then a board meeting. While the Wahkon Inn is the usual venue for that meeting, there was a six month period where the Lions were unable to meet at a local establishment. Between March and October of the pandemic, the Lions forewent their dinner meeting and met via email for their board meetings. “We managed to do that,” Halvorson said, “and we are finally getting back into our routine now.” In February, the Lions held their first general meeting in several months, and Halvorson suspected there would now be a return to routine.
“Part of the Lions Club is serving the community,” he said, “but it’s also about socialization. It’s the opportunity to get together and see people who are friends, neighbors, and Lions Club members. We’ve missed out on that during the COVID pandemic.”
In honor of their 50th anniversary, Halvorson indicated that the Isle Lions planned to have a celebration inviting past and current members around mid-May. That celebration will also include a presentation from the local district governor.
It may be coincidence that the Isle Lions’ 50th anniversary happened to follow a global pandemic that has inextricably impacted the past year of everyone’s life. That pandemic has required the involved action of all our local community caretakers, and though the manner in which they’ve engaged the community has required slight adjusting, the Isle Lions have continued to provide a wealth of care to their community.