North Dakota Nice: The Chair Affair provides “A Seat to Eat”

There are 16,130 children in North Dakota who lack enough food for healthy growth every day, which is why the Grand Forks Public School District provides a free soy butter lunch to any student whose lunch balance falls too far into the red.  However, educators were noticing that the stigma of the free meal was keeping high school students from accepting it – and so, a group of amazing Grand Forks women organized The Chair Affair to make sure every child has a hot lunch.

The Chair Affair is the brainchild of Becky Ronkowski, a retired teacher.  After hearing the Grand Forks Public School Board begin discussions on how to handle negative lunch accounts, Becky tapped former Grand Forks School Board member Meggen Sande, Emilia Hodgson of the Grand Forks Foundation for Education, Becca Bahnmiller of the Community Foundation of Grand Forks, and real estate agent Nikki Fournier to help her turn a former political fundraiser into an event that would continue to help the community year after year.

“I believe that we are all called to help lift one another up,” said Becky.  “My vision was that the community of Grand Forks could come together to take care of our own – children who need to be fed.”

meggen sande becca bahnmiller emilia hodgson becky ronkowski nikki fournier

Working off of the theme “A Seat to Eat,” 23 artists contributed chair designs for The Chair Affair.  The chairs were auctioned off at a September event, which continues to raise funds even afterwards.  Contributing artists included Adam Kemp, Kimberely Forness Wilson, Carrie Sapa, Courtney Olson, Meggen Sande, Becky Ronkowski, Schroeder Middle School Students, Becky Smith, Jessie Thorson, Kyleen Guttormson, Heather Krause, Jamie Sebby, Becca Bahnmiller, All Seasons Garden Center, Andrea Stroh, Amy Knudsvig, Brenda Cole, Darren Thompson, and Kina McVeigh.  A few of the artists donated more than one chair, and one individual asked to remain anonymous.

“The event was a huge success, raising over $12,000,” said Becky.  “We had a full house, and we continue to receive checks in the mail.  And, I’ve had many people hand me donations as I’ve been out and about in the community.  So very cool!”

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The Chair Affairs also continues to give back in unique ways.  The chair “No Seat at the Table” created by Heather Krause, is now on display on the altar at Christus Rex as a daily reminder to care for the marginalized in our midst.

by heather krause no seat at the table is now on the altar at christus rex as a reminder to care for the marginalized in our midst

The Chair Affairs was sponsored by Keith Ronkowski, Valley Oral & Facial Surgery, and Riverside Dental, who covered the costs of the event itself.  Thanks to the donations from the sponsors, all of the money raised has gone directly to the school lunch fund.  The Chair Affair was also supported by several student sponsors: Max Reichert, Sara Grossbauer, Lily Grossbauer, Clarkson Sande, and Stella Sande.

The Chair Affair team hopes to make this a reoccurring fall fundraiser.  To keep up with the latest on the planning efforts, follow The Chair Affair on Facebook.  In the meantime, they continue to accept donations to the lunch program.  Checks can be dropped at the Mark Sanford Education Center and should be made payable to the Grand Forks Foundation for Education/Chair Affair.  You can also donate online at the Grand Forks Foundation for Education.

Thank you, Becky, Meggen, Emilia, Becca, Nikki, and all of the fantastic artists, donors, and volunteers for keeping Grand Forks healthy and strong!

photo by Porapak Apichodilok

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