A guest blog by Michael Willemsen, CAA Chapter coordinator
The St. Cloud area has had a long history of environmental and animal rights advocacy. I met Zach Ewald many years ago at St. Cloud State University through a student group called Advocates for Animals and the Environment. We received guidance and materials from non-profit groups such as Compassionate Action for Animals and Vegan Outreach. Shannon Kimball came up to St. Cloud and gave some unforgettable presentations to both SCSU and SCTCC students through the Bridges of Respect program. We happily volunteered to help! Fast forward to 2014 when Zach started Food Not Bombs in St. Cloud and we formed the unofficial Central Minnesota Vegan Association (CMVA). We hosted film showings, did leafleting outreach, and participated in some tabling events. My personal favorite was when our group had a free food giveaway at St. Cloud Pride in the Park.
In the Spring of 2021, I approached Zach with an idea of getting more involved for animal rights in our local community. The CMVA group had long since disbanded. We communicated online and reached out to Laura Matanah (CAA’s Executive Director). She was supportive of our idea to start a local chapter and provided us with logistical support. After meeting with Zach and others for some vegan grilling at a local park, our St. Cloud Chapter was officially recognized in June of 2021.
Our first vegan potluck was at Mississippi River County Park. It was well attended with lots of good conversation and delicious food on a beautiful day. It was a great start! We passed out over 300 “Compassionate Choices” booklets from Vegan Outreach through their Adopt-A-College program that fall. These booklets encourage people to move toward a plant-based diet. Our St. Cloud chapter tuned in virtually (while hosting our own vegan potluck at Riverside Park) for a wonderful CAA ThanksLiving celebration.
In 2022 we continued to host potluck and dine out events to build the local community. In September of 2022 we grew to include 32 Facebook group members and 21 people who communicate via email. Five people from our St. Cloud Chapter helped to promote the Twin Cities Veg Fest and celebrated the 10th anniversary of Veg Fest as event volunteers! We also took the lead in hosting “The Seeds of Vandana Shiva” film screening. It’s fun being part of an egalitarian organization that cultivates empathy for all animals. Grassroots organizations will always work best locally.