Photo: Tommy Wiita/KSTP.
Photo: Tommy Wiita/KSTP.
Updated: July 02, 2020 01:15 PM
Created: June 24, 2020 07:32 PM
For Mitch Gayns and his girlfriend, Kayla Scheitlin, returning to Scheitlin's home state came at an unprecedented time.
Scheitlin, a high school teacher in the Boston area, was affected by COVID-19 job-wise, just like many in the world.
Gayns, a designer and a podcast host, and Scheitlin caved under the stress from working from home in their one-bedroom condo and decided to return to Plymouth, where Scheitlin's parents reside.
"It was a 'why not' decision (to come to Minnesota)," Gayns said of making the initial 24-hour drive and moving to Minnesota temporarily. After more than a month in the state, the couple were making plans to go back to Boston and then it happened.
The "it" was the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day.
Four former Minneapolis police officers have been charged in connection to Floyd's death. Initial police reports conflicted with witness video of the incident, which in turn created an uproar of civil unrest in Minneapolis and neighboring cities.
Gayns and Scheitlin were prepared to move to Boston and buy a multi-family property, but they decided to put those plans on hold to start something bigger in Minnesota.
"We decided to act and do something that mattered at that moment," Gayns said, despite being unemployed at the moment, and over a thousand miles from home.
They started with $600 pooled between the two of them that went toward an initial purchase of "protest supplies," such as bottled water, flashlights and first-aid kits. Gayns made a call to action on May 28 on Twitter for additional funds from his followers.
As the couple delivered the first few loads of supplies to the Minnesota Youth Collective, who helped coordinate sending supplies to multiple locations around the Twin Cities, the donations never stopped, and Gayns continued to post all receipts and updates from their mission on social media.
"Donations kept rolling in, so we kept on doing work," Gayns said.
Both Gayns and Scheitlin became the orchestrators behind Twin Cities Diaper Drive.
As of June 30, their fundraising efforts have accumulated over $40,000. The money has gone toward plywood, power tools, screws and and hammers for businesses to board up or rebuild; to medical supplies for those recovering from injuries sustained during the unrest; and to bottled water, laundry detergent, food and more for families who are unable to get to work or to a grocery store during this time.
Their focus shifted from protesters on the front lines, to those who need the most help during these turbulent times as the weeks wore on, also taking into account the impacts of the aftermath of riots and the ongoing presence of COVID-19.
That's what led the couple to orchestrate the Twin Cities Diaper Drive.
"Hard to get basic items when your grocery store is burnt down and you have underlying health issues but need goods," Gayns said, alluding to the need they saw for things such as hygiene products and laundry detergent. But the highest priority for families was baby goods.
Using online stores like Amazon and Target registries, supporters around the world ordered and shipped over 40,000 diapers, baby formula, wipes, ointment and more to Mount Olivet Lutheran Church of Plymouth, where the diaper drive currently calls home and volunteers distribute the supplies throughout the Twin Cities weekly.
Gayns said his background in activism and startups certainly helps while structuring the process of giving back.
"Nothing I ever do will feel like it's enough ... (I'm) just a guy trying to do the right thing ... the outcome of what we've been able to do has been nothing short of great," Gayns said.
Marcia, a member of the church for 17 years, says volunteering and helping out is an integral focus of what the church is about.
"We do a lot of community outreach in a lot of different ways. Whether it's food, unemployment, housing ... there's just so many pies we have our fingers in," Marcia said.
And the Boston couple's mission was something church volunteers could get behind. Scheitlin found the church through a friend who had studied with Associate Pastor Joel Bergland in the past. It makes her feel proud she could help out in a local way.
"(Lately) you can't find diapers in the city, and surrounding suburbs are getting cleaned out, too," Scheitlin said. "So, it worked out to get something productive happening here."
In the ongoing cry for better policing and social injustices being exposed by the day, Gayns advises many that if they want to keep the fight going, they have to do more than just post on their social media profiles or read books. Church leaders agree with Gayns, noting how the outreach to help has grown massively compared to years past.
"There's no shortage of things to do; you have all these options now. Look, you can donate, you can volunteer, you can cook, you can build, you can drive. If you're someone who thinks 'I want to do something but I don't know what,' just do whatever you're most comfortable with and do it for this movement," Gayns advised.
Gayns adds, in a time when there are an abundance of leaders, all it takes for someone to help is just a three-word phrase: "Just show up."
"There are plenty of people who are ready to lead, but the need is for more people to just show up and help out with anything that is needed," Gayns said. "Those kinds of helpers are the most appreciated and needed these days."
He noted that especially goes for people coming from outside the community, like himself.
Drivers are still needed to assist with the Twin Cities Diaper Drive. Gayns said about eight to 10 drivers help out on an average day, and they draw from a network of about 50 volunteers.
It's a question that is answered in many ways: What is a community to you? This question is particularly important in a time when the community is all some areas have to lean on.
"Sharing your resources. Helping in whatever way is necessary," Marcia said.
"Connecting with each other," Suzanne, another long-dedicated church member, added.
"A group of people who share a common goal or a common space," Scheitlin stated, adding that not all community necessarily is coming together with each other in mind. "Ideally, a community is working on a common goal together and listening to each other and sharing (different perspectives)."
And Gayns shared his thoughts on the prompt as well, with a more focused look at the Twin Cities in general.
"The interfaith relationship of different communities of color, faith communities, etc. here is something I am not used to seeing so much of (in Boston)," he said. "We're running this diaper drive out of a Lutheran church, and we're delivering to other churches but also synagogues, temples, mosques. Then we're also delivering to people's backyards, street corners, schools... All of these places are working together rather than communities separating themselves from other communities."
"What community means to me ... a big part of community for me, personally speaking, is to be oneself. The building of community requires you to give up some individuality to conform to a group identity," Gayns said of what community means to him. "However, the best kind of communities are where a group ideology doesn't really dominate-- group respect does."
Ask yourself what community means to you and evolve it into something more each day.
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