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Luverne teens drawing attention to poverty

Mikayla Wiederhoeft (from left), Adriana Gonzalez and Courney Wendland are working to create more awareness about poverty in their community of Luverne. The trio are planning a DeFEET Poverty barefoot walk in Luverne City Park Nov. 17. (Julie Buntjer / The Globe)

LUVERNE — A trio of Luverne High School seniors are drawing attention to poverty this fall by giving people in their community a chance to experience how homelessness feels.

Adriana Gonzalez, Courtney Wendland and Mikayla Wiederhoeft are among the youngest community members to be part of the Blandin Foundation’s Leaders Partnering to End Poverty (LPEP) initiative established in Luverne during the summer of 2017. Each serves on a community group tasked with learning more about poverty in their community, but they also wanted to do something to address awareness among their fellow students.

In October, the teens coordinated a box city event for fellow FCCLA members in the backyard of their FCCLA advisor’s home. Nine people participated by staying outside for 24 hours with only water to drink and a cardboard box to sleep in on a cold night.

Now, the trio is gearing up for a second community event — DeFEET Poverty — in which the public is invited to walk barefoot around the Luverne City Park from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. next Saturday, Nov. 17.

“We know that people will be hesitant because it is a barefoot walk and it is really cold,” said Wendland. “But that is the point — that this is how some people live and can’t get shoes.”

Those who register by Monday will get a T-shirt, but they are still welcome to attend if they miss the deadline. To register, email defeatpoverty.mn@gmail.com or send a message through its Facebook page: Defeating Poverty. Net proceeds from the registration fee will go to the local food shelf and other organizations who help people in poverty.

“We’d like donations, but we can’t expect anything,” added Wiederhoeft. “People in poverty may want to do the walk, and the main point is (walking) barefoot.”

Water will be provided for participants, and attendees will get to learn more about the work to address poverty in Luverne from Wiederhoeft, Gonzalez and Wendland.

The teens are hoping to not only draw attention to poverty, but to also turn it into a project for their senior year in FCCLA. Each joined the leadership organization in eighth grade.

“At this point we’re seeing where this project takes us,” said Gonzalez, noting the three projects they planned for this fall. The third was a food drive for the local food shelf, which didn’t actually happen because they found out the food shelf was overflowing with items. They may still try to do that project during the holidays.

“We’re trying to find other ways to help,” Gonzalez said. “We’re looking at clothing donations, non-perishable food items, money — whatever it is, we’re willing to take it to help others.”

“Our main focus is … educating the community,” she added. “I feel we lack that — we’re all inside our little bubbles.”

“Poverty is everywhere,” Wendland said, noting she’s become more aware of the issue since serving on LPEP. She also realizes it’s a subject people don’t feel comfortable talking about.

“People don’t want other people to know they’re in poverty,” Wendland said. The trouble with that is they aren’t willing to seek resources or ask for help.

“Poverty seems like something people want to keep behind closed doors,” added Wiederhoeft.

The teens said they’ve found the LPEP initiative to be very interesting.

“Nobody knows everything; there’s always something to learn,” Gonzalez said. “You might become aware of what’s actually going on.”

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at The Farm Bleat

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