She watched as the little girl watched the cornucopia of children bobble within the brightly-colored confines, flipping and scissor-kicking in celebration of the autumn season.
She watched as the little girl watched from across the road, sitting with her father, sipping cider and chewing complimentary cookies.
She watched as the little girl sighed and stared at the crumbs on her napkin.
“Without knowing any better, I told the little girl to go jump in the inflatable bounce houses. I didn’t know her dad, so I didn’t know the family was struggling,” said Nicole Wiederrich, receptionist for Dakota Valley Electric in Edgeley.
What happened next broke Wiederrich’s heart.
“The dad said he’d had health problems and couldn’t afford the $10 fee. I felt so bad that I paid the $10 for his daughter. I wanted to help, but didn’t want to hurt the man’s pride. I was happy to see he accepted it so graciously and even more happy to see the dust from the girl’s shoes as skedaddled to those bounce houses!” Wiederrich said.
The next day at work, Wiederrich shared the story with her fellow officemates at Dakota Valley Electric.
Each Friday, the eight or so Dakota Valley Electric office employees donate a $1 towards the Casual Day Fund. The money, along with the 75 cents they collect selling cans of pop in the break room, adds up to about $500 and benefits two or three people a year.
“We knew this little girl had a Christmas concert coming up for school,” Wiederrich said. “The kids have to look nice for that – dresses for the girls and slacks and ties for the boys. We knew that if the dad couldn’t afford the $10 games, the family couldn’t afford new clothes either.’”
So with the Casual Day Fund, Senior Billing Representative Wendy Boom purchased a Christmas dress as well as shoes, tights and other outfits the girl could wear during the week. The office workers consulted with the school to make sure they purchased the correct sizes.
“We didn’t tell them who donated it or anything. We just wanted them to have something special for the holidays,” Boom said.
Wiederrich’s mother, who works at the school, said after the gifts were delivered, the girl came to class feeling proud and confident.
“The girl came to school the next day just beaming, believing Santa visited her early,” Wiederrich said.
In addition to the young girl, recent Casual Day Fund recipients include a family whose baby was born with severe health problems, a boy paralyzed after a hunting accident and families after the death of a loved one. Membership in the cooperative isn’t a factor. The money stays within the communities Dakota Valley Electric employees live and work and benefits whomever needs it most, said Payroll/Benefits Administrator Rhonda Shockman.
Shockman jokes that the Casual Day Fund, which is more than 25 years old, started in secret. While office managers were away, the employees decided amongst themselves to hold a casual day on Fridays in exchange for a $1 donation. When he returned, the general manager was surprised to see the employees dressed in jeans and sweatshirts, but once he understood the reason, he was pretty pleased, Shockman said.
The Casual Day Fund is even popular with recently retired Dakota Valley Electric employees. One of them still stops by with $52 checks, $1 for each week of the year, to donate to the cause.
Once the money is collected and a benefactor is selected — an informal process usually decided during coffee breaks — Shockman stops at the bank and mails a Money Order to the family.
“Sometimes we get a thank-you card and sometimes we don’t. It isn’t expected,” she said.