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Life Vest raises $20,000 for flood relief

By Dawn Schuett

Post-Bulletin, Rochester MN

People gathered Sunday in Rochester to throw a "Life Vest" for those affected by the floods a month ago, raising $20,000 in just 12 hours.

A fundraising concert and event — dubbed "Life Vest" by organizers — brought together a dozen bands performing nearly 12 hours of music at the Rochester International Event Center.

Ray Samson, executive director of the event center, said the benefit concert was a way organizers could help flood victims, including some of his employees.

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"We felt this was the least we could do," Samson said. About 1,000 people attended the event over the course of 12 hours, helping raise about $20,000 that will go to the American Red Cross for flood relief, he said.

Some in the audience had homes damaged in the flood or knew others directly affected by it, like Sandy Fenstermacher and Melanie Koskie, both of Rochester.

Fenstermacher almost has finished cleaning up from the flood a month ago when 1 1/2 inches of water seeped into her basement. She also has a friend in Utica still trying to deal with a mess left by 6 feet of water in her basement and has another friend in the Kenyon area whose home had water damage.

The two women said they typically haven’t donated when disasters happen around the country but this was "close to home," Koskie said.

At this point, Fenstermacher said, what flood victims need most is "probably money to help them rebuild their homes and replace the stuff they lost."

Jenny Hegland, a Life Vest volunteer, said her husband’s family in Rushford was affected by flooding. Some students from Winona State University also are flood victims, said Hegland, who is a career counselor and does community outreach for Winona State University-Rochester.

Although many volunteers are helping with the arduous task of cleaning up, Hegland said she used her skills and connections to collect donations from individuals and businesses for a silent auction and raffle at the event.

"My talents are not in cleaning up broken houses," Hegland said.

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During her work for Life Vest, Hegland met Jason Smith of Rochester, a WSU senior majoring in art. Two years ago, Smith was a student at Loyola University in New Orleans and evacuated two days before Hurricane Katrina hit.

Smith told Hegland he would paint something to contribute to the silent auction for flood relief in southeastern Minnesota.

He drove to Rushford and toured the city in search of something to paint, deciding his subject would be Rushford Lutheran Church.

"Church buildings, of course, can be a symbol of the hope we find in God and Christ in the midst of tragedy," Smith said.

People recovering from a disaster can see God working through those who come to help, he said.

Life Vest is among several fundraising events that have happened or are scheduled in the next few weeks to benefit flood victims. Upcoming events include staged readings Tuesday and Sept. 25 at the Commonweal Theatre Company in Lanesboro, a benefit concert Oct. 13 at Whiskeybones Roadhouse in Rochester, and a fundraiser in South St. Paul. A flood-relief concert was Sept. 9 in Zumbrota.

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