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West Salem fundraiser gives grocery store gift cards to families in need

Kaitlyn Riley

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Schools may be closed, but the community in West Salem is bringing heart-warming lessons into the home.

As families face difficult financial times, the West Salem Education Association (WSEA) partnered with the West Salem Lions Club for a matching funds drive through April 29 to give grocery gift cards to struggling families in the West Salem School District.

The Lions offered $1,000, giving the effort a $2,000 base. WSEA Co-President Ryan Waldhart said they expect to serve nearly 250 families.

“There’s two parts to this,” Waldhart said. “We’re collecting money, and then we’re also trying to identify families who have come across some kind of hardship. Maybe a parent lost a job or is being furloughed amidst the pandemic here, or maybe there’s an illness or something. We’re really trying to just reach out to help our students and their families.”

In addition to giving back to local families, the effort supports the local West Salem Hansen’s IGA.

“Hansen’s is just that small-town kind of grocery store,” Waldhart said. “They often have a hard time competing with the bigger entities, so we decided pretty quickly to purchase the cards right in town. Plus, it is more convenient for our families.”

The original goal was to raise $4,000, but support exceeded all expectations.

“On the pace we’re going, we should be able to give each family a $50 gift card, so we are targeting about $12,000 to hit that mark,” Waldhart said. “We’ve just had such an outpouring of generosity.”

Donations rolled in from teachers, support staff, administrators, school board members as well as local businesses and families.

“It’s been a challenging time for everybody,” Waldhart said. “We’ve been trying to serve our students and keep them engaged which is difficult when you’re not with them. We thought we could do a little bit extra to help out.”

According to Waldhart, 100 percent of donations will be used for the gift cards. Donations will be accepted through April 19. Contributions can be made via VENMO at @WSEACARES. Checks can be made to WESA with “Food Cards” in the memo line. Those can be mailed to the following address:

West Salem Middle School

c/o Ryan Waldhart

440 East Avenue

West Salem, WI 54660

Kaitlyn Riley’s passion for communications started on her family’s dairy farm in Gays Mills, Wis. Wanting to share agriculture’s story, she studied strategic communications and broadcast journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In college, she held officer positions with the Association of Women in Agriculture and Badger Dairy Club while volunteering as a news reporter for the college radio station. She also founded the university’s first agricultural radio talk show, AgChat. In her professional career, Kaitlyn has worked in both radio, print and television news doing everything from covering local events to interviewing presidential candidates, and putting back on her barn boots to chat with farmers in the field. Today, Kaitlyn can be seen covering local stories that matter to you in the La Crosse area.

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