Even small gifts change lives

Pay It Forward

Bell Lender Coordinates Donations to Hundreds of Displaced Families

Some days, the emotions become too raw. When that happens, Alex Nelson takes a break. She catches up on her work – extremely busy these days – as a Bell Bank Mortgage lender officed in the Twin Cities suburb of Lilydale, Minn. She goes for a walk. She makes time to enjoy the vivid colors of her flower garden.

And then she gets back to her latest passion project – one that is rooted in the tragedy following the killing of George Floyd, and blossoming into hopeful action to help families in dire need.

Helping Those Displaced by Riots

Like so many charitable “asks,” Alex’s project began with requests she noticed popping up on her Facebook feed. Near the end of the first week of Black Lives Matter protests, and the riots and fires that followed, a school in Minneapolis was asking for donations for students.

“These kids were displaced when the places they lived were burned, or the places where their parents worked were burned,” Alex explains. “On top of it, these often are families where one or both parents may have COVID-19. They need food, bunches of items.”

As soon as Alex saw it, she shared the request, encouraging others to help. As more and more of her friends responded, Alex messaged them privately to say she would be going to make purchases to donate goods on the last weekend in May. From there, her project simply mushroomed.

“A lot of people reached out to me,” she says, “and encouraged me to have a drop-off location.” Alex set it up with the help of a friend who owns a grocery store, with a patio-restaurant area at the side. That became a drop-off and pickup site, as did a community center. The event was promoted and shared on Facebook, and neighborhood organizations helped distribute flyers. Some friends helped shop, and others sorted and transported. The results last weekend were overwhelming.

“We had more than $100,000 worth of donations and goods on Sunday,” Alex says, “and more than 150 cars showed up to drop off donations.”

In all, the event empowered donations to 9 different organizations For example, Alex sent 3 vehicles full of goods to a building in St. Paul, and from there the items were distributed to schools and charities. 6 cars and 2 trailers headed to a Minneapolis church. On the next weekend, Alex coordinated another donation-and-distribution event, this time for hygiene items. And with the GoFundMe account she started, Alex has so far helped 7 families cover their rent and receive food and other necessities.

Her success is keeping Alex ever-busier. Schools, organizations and businesses continue to reach out to her. Even Alex’s home has become a distribution center. As she and her helpers refine their process, she says, they plan to keep going for as long as it’s needed. “We’re finding ways to do it better,” she comments. “These places weren’t ready, but now a system is in place, so help gets to all the people.”

All a Community

Alex, who was born and raised in Dominican Republic, is active in the Twin Cities’ Latino and African-American communities, including as a leader of the Dominican Association. She says communities and neighborhoods become like small towns, where people know each other. In fact, Alex knew both George Floyd and police officer Derek Chauvin and says George worked at a business – now burned to the ground – owned by her friend.

“I went there yesterday,” Alex related this week. “It was too much to take in.”

Alex says her actions are simply “the right thing to do.” While many people wonder what they can do to help, Alex says there’s a long list. Her GoFundMe account accepts monetary donations to help families either pay rent, or pay a deposit to get into new housing. She often is out personally shopping and delivering the most basic supplies – such as milk for a baby – to displaced and impoverished families.

And while the scale of the need gets to her sometimes, Alex says it feels good to act. “We are impacting the community in a good way,” she says. “It fills my heart to see it.”