Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC), a member-owned electric cooperative providing reliable electricity to over 13,000 members in Aitkin, Crow Wing and Mille Lacs Counties, has had many twists and turns, along with so many others. But they are proud to say they have navigated much of it successfully as they have kept their employees working and also kept their members’ lights on.

“We have seen our members lose their jobs; we have seen local businesses close; we have seen our friends and neighbors lose their loved ones,” said Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative Communications Specialist Kassie Peterson. “Our employees, our members and our greater community members have been affected by this pandemic in some way. We have tried to take a proactive approach and keep our communities at the forefront of all business decisions.”

One of the seven cooperative principles is “commitment to community” and is what launched MLEC into action. Some of the specific ways MLEC helped ease the pandemic burden for its members and community were through helping garner financial assistance during the pandemic, offering public use of a free high-speed Internet connection available from the MLEC parking lot, continuing to grow their broadband internet service so users could work better from home, and launching a “Gift Card Trivia” in their monthly newsletter to give a lucky member a prize for reading their Outlet newsletter while supporting local restaurants and businesses.

One notable service that MLEC had already provided and has continued through the pandemic was the distribution of grants to deserving organizations and charities through Operation Round Up, with an additional $1,950 granted to Aitkin Public Schools to help fund a new 3D printer for creating plastic face shields.

MLEC employees have been encouraged to shop and eat locally and generously gave during the holiday season, donating $1,690 to the McGregor Food Shelf and Operation Christmas.

And even though they couldn’t help serve the meal, MLEC continued to support community meals by supplying funds for food. “This past year, we gave our employees gift cards to local restaurants in the counties we serve for the holidays to help support our local businesses and give our employees a little break,” noted Peterson. “And weekly, MLEC employees have been attempting to do large lunch orders at a local restaurant to help support the businesses that have been hardest hit during the pandemic.”

At the 2021 annual meeting, MLEC will be giving the registered members a $15 bill credit for attending the annual meeting rather than a gift and meal, said Peterson.

Keeping their employees and membership safe and healthy has been on the forefront for MLEC. And thankfully, the precautions MLEC leadership has put into place have kept the virus at bay. Closing the front lobby, wearing masks, sanitizing high traffic areas, social distancing, and alternating work-from-home schedules are all things that have helped them continue their everyday operations.

“We also made prudent business decisions to ensure that we kept our rates stable, so we did not add to the stress our members were already under,” said Peterson. “While we look forward to the day all of our staff can be under the same roof again, we learned a lot of lessons from the pandemic. We learned that we can be flexible, nimble and more efficient than we thought possible. We will continue to build on the efficiencies we rolled out during the pandemic to enhance our operations now and in the future.”

MLEC wanted to say “thank you” to their members for making them who they are. “Our primary purpose is to serve our members, and without them, we would not exist,” said Peterson. “In a cooperative, Commitment to Community is one of our guiding principles. We had a member demonstrate this by donating their first stimulus check to their fellow members that could not pay their electric bills.”

They also wanted to thank their wholesale power provider, Great River Energy, who provided their 28 member-owners with wholesale power bill credits during the pandemic and the State of Minnesota, through DEED, who continues to support MLEC with grants to expand their true-gigabit fiber business.

For more information or to donate to the Operation Round Up program, visit https://www.mlecmn.net/. Peterson added that the funds collected for Operation Round Up are distributed directly to local organizations and charities each quarter.

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