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Bipartisan effort renders assistance to Afghan allies
With support from Vernon County businesses
Roger Call collects donations for Afghan allies
ROGER CALL, who works with the Viroqua Lions Club, is seen picking up donations for Afghan refugees at St. Mary’s Church in Gays Mills.

VERNON COUNTY - The Republican and Democratic parties of Vernon County recently concluded a successful, bipartisan, initiative to collect needed supplies for Afghan refugees housed at Fort McCoy. A total of 13 pallets of donated supplies were collected at the Vernon County Highway Shop, with the last pallet being delivered just before New Years.

“It was a fantastic effort,” Vernon County Board Chairperson Justin Running said of the effort in his county. “Locally, more and more, we have seen that people are sick of the partisan divisions and fighting that we’ve seen in recent years. We all have so much in common, and efforts like this remind us that what we have in common is really much greater than our differences.”

Running said that the best thing about the initiative is that it was easy to get everyone to agree to work together on the effort.

Due to the relocation of refugees off the base sooner than originally planned, the donation drive was called off at the end of December. Residual donations that have come in after the end of the drive are now being redirected to CouleeCap, Bethel Buttik Food Pantry, Salvation Army, Goodwill, and other outlets to help local families in need.

Businesses helped

The bipartisan nature of the effort also made it easy for local businesses to plug into the effort. Businesses such as Nelson Ag Center, Southwest Sanitation, Cashton Farm Supply and Proline Printing, and countless other local businesses stepped forward to help. 

According to Tim Hundt from Congressman Ron Kind’s office, Dan Kanis from Nelson Ag Center provided a straight truck with a lift, pallet jack and a driver to transport the pallets of donations to Fort McCoy. Southwest Sanitation provided bins used to collect supplies. Cashton Farm Supply provided pallets from their Westby egg sorting facility, and Proline Printing printed posters for the effort free of charge.

Laura Patten, co-owner of County Seat Laundry, was another business owner who stepped forward to help with the effort. Supplies were collected at the business, and many people learned of the effort from seeing a poster while they were doing laundry.

“People were eager to find a way to help, and relieved to find an outlet for their donations,” Patten said. “I heard many comments that people were very happy to see this bipartisan effort, and expressed a sense of gratitude that there were still ways to come together as a community and exhibit a normal sense of neighborliness.”

Patten had originally planned to offer free laundering for gently used items to be donated, but had to switch gears when word came that only new items would be accepted. She pointed out that their business has an ongoing donation account that provides free laundry to community residents that have experienced a tragedy or fallen on hard times.

Right thing to do

Tim Hundt from Congressman Ron Kind’s office, reported gratitude for the help from local businesses, and for both political parties in the county stepping forward to lead the effort together.

“Part of the reason this became bipartisan was because some businesses were leery about working with just one party. Some businesses had bad experiences with the whole mask controversy, and that was really what prompted the move to make this a bipartisan effort,” Hundt explained. “Once we told the businesses it was bipartisan, the positive feedback was incredible. Efforts like this give people hope that we can agree on something good, put our differences aside, and just do the right thing to help people who were willing to risk their lives for us.”

Roger Call, Chairperson of the Vernon County Republican Party, echoed Hundt’s sentiments.

“It was just the right thing to do, at the right time,” Call said. “We pushed out word about the drive on our party website, and encouraged our members to consider participating.”

Wade Lawler, Chairperson of the Vernon County Democratic Party agreed with Running and Call.

“The reality is that if our two political parties hadn’t cooperated in this effort, we would have achieved less,” Lawler pointed out. “By making the effort bipartisan, we were able to have a more significant impact.”

Volunteers Kathy Sullivan and Kristina Reser-Jaynes provided some of the essential backbone at the collection and sorting facility. Members of the Viroqua Lions Club, were also instrumental in coordinating pick-ups from some of the remote donation locations.

“The effort really was able to take off when it became bipartisan and we took politics out of the effort,” Reser-Jaynes commented. “Setting aside our differences to come together in a common effort was very refreshing, and facilitated lots of camaraderie and great conversations.”

Save Our Allies

In August of 2021, all eyes were on Afghanistan as the United States withdrew troops and evacuated Afghan allies out of the country. U.S. armed forces had been involved in Afghanistan for 20 years, from 2001-2021, and the withdrawal marked the end of one of the longest wars in the nation’s history.

As a result of the withdrawal, the U.S. airlifted tens of thousands of Afghans at risk of reprisals by the Taliban that had taken control of the country, and a large number of those refugees came to be housed at Fort McCoy in Monroe County. Of the population housed there, 45 percent were under the age of 18. Their needs were immense, and citizen efforts resulted in large numbers of donations of clothing, school supplies and personal care supplies being collected and delivered.

Originally, private sector relief efforts at Fort McCoy were coordinated by Team Rubicon, but later transitioned to the non-profit ‘Save Our Allies.’ The U.S. Army is not allowed to accept donations from the public, so organizations like these stepped in to fill the breach.