Following the release of the government’s stimulus checks in the spring, church-goers at Red Cedar Church in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, recognized that many in the community had a greater need for financial support through stimulus checks than they did.

Lisa Hobbie, who leads outreach ministry at Red Cedar Church, said, “Numerous people mentioned that they didn’t need their checks and wished they knew of families, businesses or individuals who needed them.”

A joint effort began to unfold between church staff, volunteers, members, individuals and businesses in Rice Lake and Barron County leading to the creation of the Red Cedar Stimulus Initiative.

“[With the stimulus initiative], we could use the church as a liaison between individuals who didn’t need their stimulus checks and those businesses and individuals who needed the boost during this crazy COVID-19 season,” Hobbie said. Rice Lake is a rural community (pop. 8,000) located in Barron County (pop. 44,000). While Red Cedar Church’s main campus is in Rice Lake, it also has a micro-site in nearby Ladysmith (pop. 3,000). Both communities are blue-collar driven, full of manufacturing and service-industry jobs.

With stimulus check funds, the Red Cedar Stimulus Initiative provided for the community, where approximately 12 percent of families live at or below the poverty line, in unprecedented ways:

  • $100 grocery gift cards were purchased and gifted to random shoppers, along with a note saying, “Red Cedar loves [them] and so does God.”
  • Gift cards were purchased at businesses including a faith-based sporting goods store, hair salons, coffee shops, restaurants and ice cream shops, each owned by members and other church attendees allowing them to “randomly bless customers with free goods and services.”
  • Gas cards were purchased, and volunteers pumped and filled tanks for strangers, inviting them to church.
  • Provision was provided for numerous families, with needs ranging from home or vehicle repair to other supplies or support.
  • A partnership was made with a local organization, FORK, which provides meals for “low-income families in need of groceries during weekends and summer months, when kids aren’t able to be fed in school.”
  • Supplies for kids at Rice Lake day cares, were bought, as well as spa certificates for the day-care owners so they could get a little pampering.
  • Days at local splash pad waterparks were sponsored, providing families an inexpensive fun.
  • A virtual “national night out” hosted by local Rick Lake servicemen for families to learn about various programs in the county, free fun activities involved Red Cedar support. Drawings throughout the event allowed participants the opportunity to win local business gift cards purchased by the stimulus initiative.
  • Popcorn, muffins, cookies, etc., were provided to schools, public works buildings, hospitals and nursing homes to bless the workers, residents and patients.
  • A local senior center that provides meals and activities for aging individuals in the county was supported.
  • Sponsored an enrichment program called Sister’s Pantry and Cupboard that supports healthy families through a pantry supplying food, household and hygiene items as well as family counseling.

“COVID-19 has left people homeless, feeling helpless and financially strapped. It has left businesses in a state of struggle and barely getting by — if getting by,” Hobbie said. “We feel it is important to be the church, the hands and feet, and get the resources into the hands, homes and hearts of those in need.”

Hobbie reported that a few thousand local residents have been impacted by the Rice Lake Stimulus Initiative including donors, staff, volunteers, business owners and stimulus recipients.