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‘Habitat 500’ fundraiser going virtual

ON THE ROAD AGAIN — Cory Germain and Staci Thompson are seen getting ready for a day’s ride during the 2019 Habitat 500.

FAIRMONT — For 27 years, Habitat for Humanity sponsored the annual Habitat 500, a 500-mile bicycle ride that raised more than $300,000 for Minnesota chapters to use for their affordable housing projects, but the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 forced a revamping of the event.

“It’s a much different ride this year,” said Staci Thompson, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Martin and Faribault Counties. “The planned route was in the Brainerd and Bemidji area, but due to COVID, it’s a virtual ride. All the registered riders are riding their miles locally.

Changing the design of the event will enable other riders to participate. Previous events were limited to 130 riders, but the new virtual event allows for additional participants.

“You don’t have to go the whole 500 miles either,” said Thompson, who participated in the Habitat 500 for the first time last year. “You can go five miles, if that’s what you choose. There’s really no set rules this year.”

Another change involves the timeline. Originally scheduled for July 12-18, this year’s Habitat 500 has been expanded for two additional months, allowing people to sign up and ride through September.

Five local residents had planned to participate in the original event. In addition to Thompson, other riders included Dave Kittleson, a retired teacher from Blue Earth; Jim Wood of Blue Earth, president of the local chapter’s board of directors; the Rev. Cory Germain of Fairmont and his son, Cameron. Board member Terry Malherek of Lewisville recently signed up to ride also.

“Dave Kittleson is riding all 500 of his miles next week. He’s got his routes planned. He’s going to hit every town in Faribault County,” Thompson said.

“I am going to hit every town in Faribault County too, but not in a week. We have until the end of September to do our miles. It’s up to each individual where they want to ride and how they want to ride. You can ride your bike. You can ride a stationary bike at the gym. However you want to do it.

“That’s nice because you have more flexibility, but you don’t have that sense of community and camaraderie, that visual of bringing attention to the affordable housing crisis in our state.”

With COVID forcing the cancellation of the Habitat chapter’s other fundraisers, the Habitat 500 remains the only event for the non-profit organization to raise money. Donations are raised through participation pledges, not based on miles ridden, and all the money stays local.

“Small businesses have definitely been hammered, but people don’t realize that organizations like ours have just been financially decimated,” Thompson said. “People aren’t donating right now. We’ve had to cancel our two big spring fundraisers. We haven’t been able to be at county fairs and festivals so we haven’t been able to get out and raise money. I don’t know how we’ll recover from this.”

To compound the financial stress, the local Habitat chapter is facing heavy demand, with two house projects in Fairmont, one in Truman, one in Blue Earth and others imminent.

The organization is just restarting its volunteer program for housing projects.

“Habitat International had closed down all volunteer work because of COVID, and we have just been slowly tiptoeing back into construction again,” Thompson said. “I’m hoping we can have at least two Saturdays a month, but by September, I hope it’s every Saturday.

“We are welcoming volunteer groups to come work with us. You’ve got to follow social distancing guidelines, and no more than 10 people at a time.”

For more information on participating in the Habitat 500, check the website, www.Habitat500.org, or call Thompson at (507) 526-2500 with any questions about the organization or volunteering.

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