The food train at B&B Market started with a penny jar at a local gas station.
Lenny Conklin of State Farm Insurance in Cloquet said he had been brainstorming ways to help people in need with some friends. They discussed buying lunch, among other thoughts.
"I wanted something that others could get involved with, and I wanted it to be impactful," he said.
He was at a local gas station and saw the penny jar with a sign that said, "If you need one, take one." That was all he needed to spark an idea.
On Tuesday, March 24, he called John Lind at B&B Market to start a food train. And it's just one example of how Cloquet residents are pulling together to take care of each other during the COVID-19 pandemic.
John, and his wife, Kim, were on board with the idea.
Conklin bought 100 pounds of ground beef from B&B and told the Linds to donate it to the elderly or anyone else who might need food. Conklin and John took a photo together, which the Linds posted to Facebook, and the effort became a runaway train.
Business owners, local elected officials and community members have stopped in to B&B Market to make their donations and have their photos taken with John. The photos have filled Facebook: John with Mayor Roger Maki, with interim Cloquet Police Chief Derek Randall, with Ward 3 Carlton County Commissioner Tom Proulx, as well as many others.
In one week, around 200 people and businesses have donated about $15,000 worth of gift cards, not counting meat. And the train is still going strong.
"I never thought it would get this big," John said. "I've been delivering a lot out into the community, including the elderly, the backpack program and the Senior Center at Fond du Lac, plus everybody coming in every day for $20-25 boxes of food."
Community members are donating, and they're encouraging colleagues and friends to pitch in, as well. Proulx challenged the rest of the Carlton County Board of Commissioners to contribute. Don Lathrop Jr. from Great Lakes Insurance donated $500 and said he would match up to $1,000.
David and Devin Goodman and Rachel Johnson donated 20 dozen eggs and six knitted homemade caps. There have also been donations of bread and baklava.
And the phone has been ringing of the hook, Kim said. She estimates the market has received 60 or more calls per day over the last few days.
Some people donate over the phone using their credit cards. Many want to stay anonymous. A family from South Dakota called to donate $201 to beat their parents' donation of $200, she said.
But many of the phone calls are people asking for help.
John posted a video update on the food train Wednesday. In it, he spoke of an elderly couple from Superior, Wisconsin, who contacted him on Facebook. The woman said she and her husband did not have food and wondered if they could get some from the food train. A person from Duluth saw the post, bought the couple groceries and delivered the items to them.
“Talk about a Good Samaritan. You know what? There's a lot of good people in this world," John said in the video.
Myranda Carrier, 33, of Cloquet, stopped at B&B on Friday, March 27, after texting John the night before. She said she has been out of work for a week and has two teenagers to feed.
She expects to get her job back after life goes back to the “old normal,” but in the meantime, she said the gift card will definitely make a difference for her family.
Not so long ago, Conklin and his family were on the receiving end of a food train. Friends and family pitched in after his 8-year-old son was diagnosed with leukemia in December 2018.
Conklin planned to post the photo of him and John a few days after he started the train. He said he was shocked when he discovered John posted the photo and the community was responding.
"I would have been happy if someone else came in and bought another 100 pounds of hamburger to donate," he said.
Conklin said he hopes to keep the food train chugging along until May.
For more information call B&B Market at 218-879-3555 or visit the market at 506 Big Lake Road, Cloquet. Anyone who receives a gift card from B&B must use it immediately on groceries or meat. No tobacco products or gas is allowed. The Linds ask that families leave children at home when they come to shop to keep down the number of people in the store.
Kaylie Wiener and her husband, Jesse, normally have Tylenol and antibiotics on hand for their 3-year-old daughter, Ava.
Ava was born without an esophagus and underwent open heart surgery shortly after she was born, Kaylie said. Ava also has respiratory issues and a compromised immune system, which means a common cold lasts two weeks for her instead of a few days.
When the coronavirus started to ramp up in the U.S., Kaylie visited a local store to stock up, but found one bottle of pain reliever on the shelf. She decided to leave it for someone who might need it more, as she had one last bottle at home.
In the wee hours of the morning, the couple's 3-month-old daughter, Atlee, spiked a fever. Kaylie gave Atlee one dose of baby Tylenol and accidentally spilled the rest of the bottle.
Kaylie said she called family members from an hour away in a panic after finding all local stores were out. Then she put out a plea on the Cloquet Neighbors Facebook page to ask if anyone had a bottle to spare.
She was preparing to make the hour drive to her mother's home in Virginia to look for baby Tylenol when she received a call from Walgreens in Cloquet, she said.
A person who wished to remain anonymous saw Kaylie's post on Facebook and had Walgreens set a bottle aside for her.
“I still can't believe they looked us up and found us,” Kaylie said. “I actually cried.”
Kaylie took Atlee to the doctor and she's doing much better now.
To pay the gesture forward, Kaylie donated breast milk to a family in the Twin Cities who have preemie twins. The family moved to the Twin Cities temporarily to be near Ava and the hospital, but they are back home in Cloquet.
“I am so glad we moved back home. It’s nice to see everyone take care of each other,” Kaylie said. “It makes my heart happy.”
This story was updated on April 1 at 9:28 a.m. to update the total amount that had been raised in B&B Market gift cards. It was updated on March 27 at 6:30 p.m. to reflect that $7,000 in gift cards had been donated, not including the value of the meat. It was originally posted on March 27 at 4:33 p.m.