Expo a one-stop volunteer shop

American Red Cross representative Iona Holsten talks to a couple during Tuesday’s Volunteer Expo in the SAHS cafeteria. The Red Cross was one of more than 25 St. Croix Valley agencies and groups at the fourth annual expo offering volunteer opportunities to interested residents. (Gazette staff photo by Erik Sandin)

Community members, groups get together at SAHS

OAK PARK HEIGHTS — The Stillwater Area High School cafeteria became a one-stop shop Tuesday for community members and St. Croix Valley groups looking to make connections.

The Fourth Annual Volunteer Expo sponsored by Community Thread, United Way of Washington County-East and Independent School District 834 brought Valley residents interested in volunteering together with more than 25 agencies looking for volunteers.

After three years at the Community Thread office at Orleans Street West, the expo was moved to SAHS for several reasons, according to Angie Lien, UWWC-E executive director. Everyone in the area knows where the school is and the cafeteria offered more space for agencies to set up information tables, she said.

“They start at the entrance and they walk right through,” Lien said.

Lien added that holding the expo at the high school fits with the ISD 834 Bridge to Excellence long-range plan that includes getting students involved in community service projects.

“A big part of their strategic plan focuses on service learning,” she said.

“This year, we’ve engaged with the school district on service opportunities,” added Valerie Jones, executive director of Community Thread. “We hope the change of venue will increase volunteer opportunities.”

One hour into the three-hour expo saw a steady stream of visitors walking through the high school cafeteria and visiting with agency and group representatives.

“We have had a steady flow since we started an hour ago,” Lien said. “Everybody that’s stopped by a group is interested in volunteering. They have a variety of ways to volunteer.”

Many expo visitors are surprised by how many volunteer opportunities exist, Jones said.

“People are surprised by the number of agencies and services out there,” she said.
One agency at the expo was the American Red Cross, represented by Iona Holsten. She spent her time discussing blood donations and other Red Cross services.

“We’re always trying to encourage blood donations and of course, we talk about disasters,” she said. “We encourage people to be prepared for disasters.”

Another way the expo helped residents prepare was accepting school supply donations for the “Stuff the Bus” campaign to aid ISD 834 students from less fortunate families.
“We’ve got a great start on the the Stuff the Bus campaign,” Lien said, adding that more donations are expected Wednesday when ISD 834 teachers and staff attend meetings at SAHS.

“We know the staff and teachers will bring stuff to donate,” Lien said.
Lien said UWWC-E will accept Stuff the Bus donations at their Curve Crest Boulevard office through Friday. Lien and UWWC-E staffer Jess Roller said organizers have enough notebooks and need more colored pencils, folders, Crayola markers and backpacks.

“Backpacks are expensive. We could use more backpacks,” Lien said.

Jones was confident that Valley residents would not only continue giving items to Stuff the Bus, but also give their time to community organizations.

“It’s interesting that we live in a community that seems wealthy and well put-together. Volunteering is part of the equation that keeps us a strong, healthy community,” she said.

Contact Erik Sandin at [email protected]