Downtown: supporting our local school, just like everywhere else

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March 15, 2004 // UPDATED 9:51 am - April 25, 2007
By: Shawn Marie Christenson
Shawn Marie Christenson

Silent auction proves we're an active community

I recently undertook a mission to collect prizes for a silent auction being held at the Interdistrict Downtown School on 10th and Hennepin. I soon became determined to prove that Downtown was not just about commerce, but community.

You see, while many abandon this kingdom of towers at the end of the day, this big corporate playground also happens to be my home. Interdistrict Downtown (not to be mistaken for soon-to-close Downtown Open) is the neighborhood school my daughter attends. And while many have questioned the impersonal nature of life in the city, I have found the opposite to be true. We're just like the suburbs, just packed closer together (and it's hard to top the commute).

But do we support our local school like the suburbs do? This was my concern as I zigzagged through the skyways, distributing letters. Downtown is not home to a lot of families, and I wondered if the local business community would come through. I'd set a high goal: collect 50 donations of gift certificates and services. Some snickered when they heard that number. One man even rolled his eyes. But I chose to keep the faith.

If you look up the word "community" in the dictionary you will descriptions such as "a unified body of individuals." No one seemed to want to "unify" 50 letters later, when my telephone sat silent and the only e-mails I'd received were related to my actual work.

My hope for a caring Downtown community was fading fast as I wondered if we really WERE just about making the almighty dollar here. I shrunk my goal of 50 to 10, but that became a temporary change...

RBC Dain Rauscher was my first donor. Le Meridien soon followed. Soon Acme, Bob Marley Shoes, Theatre de la Jeune Lune, First Avenue -- and many more -- followed. I was up to 17 and smiling from ear to ear!

And then the Big Pause came. I frantically passed out more letters and made more calls. My faith in humanity was turning to irritation as my goal became 20 - just twenty places in all Downtown that would help out a neighborhood school. Didn't they care about the kids? ...

When Solera called after five days of silence I completely lit up. (Josh Thoma, I may hug you yet.) Soon, Lindskoog and The Hilton and Staccato joined in -- and when The Melting Pot offered $100 in gift certificates, I nearly did a little dance! I was so proud -- not of myself, but of this great city, as my number climbed to 47. Could it be? Would I really hit 50 after all?

No further responses arrived. I gave up at three weeks and went about my normal life. I told myself that 47 was very close. Forty-seven was just fine.

Tunnel vision is a funny thing; I'd been so set on 50 that it took a week for me to realize that 47 (!) Downtown businesses cared about their local school enough to help. Forty-seven businesses wanted to make sure the "neighborhood kids" had what they needed. Many of those 47 businesses asked me if there were anything else they could do. And they meant it.

I've realized that in an era of greed, in what appears to be an impersonal environment, the Downtown business owners are still people who care. People. And whether they sit in a corner office or behind the cash register, they help create and contribute to the fabric of this neighborhood. I thought you should know that. I thought you should know whom you're dealing with in my neighborhood.

So don't ever tell me we're just about commerce here. Don't tell me we're not a community, either. And next time, don't be so quick to roll your eyes, mister. I received exactly three phone calls yesterday.

Hello, 50.

Shawn Marie Christenson lives near the main Post Office with her 7-year-old daughter.