For every celebrity like Bono trying to save the world, there’s a local celebrity in the Twin Cities doing a world of good. When they’re not selling out concerts, packing NFL stadiums or anchoring the local news, many local stars lend their time — and their voices — to raise awareness and money for issues that deeply resonate with them.
“When I got drafted into the NFL, I hadn’t received my [college] degree, and it was a weight I carried with me,” said Greg Jennings, former Packers and Vikings wide receiver, and founder of the Greg Jennings Foundation, which supports youth and education in the Twin Cities, Green Bay and his hometown in Michigan. “When it comes to education, nobody can take that away.”
There’s often more to your favorite celebrities than meets the eye. As we enter the season of giving, here is a closer look at the personal aspirations of five local notables using their star power for good.
Who: Rapper and writer based in Minneapolis, and a member of the indie hip-hop collective Doomtree.
Cause: Sustainable agriculture; access to seasonal, local and organic food, and socially just alternatives to the corporate food system.
In her words: “Having a platform as a musician is something to hold responsibly,” she said. “Putting your money where your values are, for me, has been the name of the game.”
Why she got involved: While touring with her rap crew, Dessa read Michael Pollan’s book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” and began to question the relationship between food, money and power in the United States. Although she was eating a lot of organic food, she realized she wasn’t supporting local farmers, producers and restaurants that aligned with her values.
How she lives it: In partnership with Clif Bar’s Green Notes program, Dessa and her band received a grant to make their 2013 tour more eco-friendly, in part by eating locally sourced meals. (It was, they discovered, harder than it sounds.)
The rhyme-spitting musician has continued to educate herself and inspire others through talks about how to be a more conscientious consumer of food. She models that behavior by eating what’s in season, produced locally and organic.
As for rapping about locally grown kale, Dessa said that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.
“I’m never going to write a song called ‘Sustainable Ag,’ because that’s a preachy and lousy song,” she said. “My goal has been to approach more conscientious eating not as a lecturing expert, but more as someone who’s excited by the prospect of doing and becoming better, and sharing that journey as I go.”
The takeaway: Supporting the sustainable agriculture movement without breaking the bank is a challenge. So what can we do? Don’t get caught up in perfection. The “holier than thou” attitude subverts the sustainable food movement, Dessa said. “Making a few simple changes in spending and eating can be phenomenally effective,” she said.
Who: Vikings linebacker.
Cause: Seriously ill and physically challenged children and their families.
In his words: “When people think of me and look me up or see what kind of career I had in 10 years, I want it to say more than he had this many tackles or played this many games and had this many starts. I want to be more than just a football player.”
Why he got involved: Growing up on a farm in South Dakota, Greenway was inspired to give back from a young age.
“My parents were farmers and we didn’t have a lot, but we had meat, we had livestock,” he said. “They were able to provide meals for families over the holidays.” Once his dream of playing in the NFL came true, Greenway realized it was his turn to give back.
How he lives it: With his wife, Jenni, he founded the Lead the Way Foundation in 2008. It sponsors Chad’s Locker, which places replicas of Vikings lockers stocked with iPads, laptops, cameras and video games in hospitals, so families with a sick child can use the devices. The Field of Dreams program grants vacations and sports-related wishes to sick children.
The Greenways are particularly passionate about supporting mothers of children with special needs. The foundation’s TendHER Heart Luncheon gives moms an opportunity to take a break from their daily routines and share their experiences with others dealing with similar challenges.
“When we started to meet all these families, we realized how much pressure and how much of the time commitment was put on the mothers,” Greenway said. “Typically, the dad was out keeping the job and the insurance, and Mom was … sitting long hours in the hospital.”
The takeaway: “A lot of times people get caught up in the idea that support and volunteerism has to be money-related,” he said. “I just don’t think that’s the case. Everyone has something to offer, and you can help just by giving your time.”
Who: Best known as the brash and brutally honest half of “The Dave Ryan Show” on KDWB Radio (101.3 FM).
Cause: Animal rescue.
In her words: “I am blessed with a platform at KDWB. I should use it for more than just talking about celebrity gossip.”
Why she got involved: Lambert was looking for something to lend her name and voice. After hosting a fundraiser for Pause 4 Paws, she was hooked. The nonprofit group raises money for 18 animal rescues and sanctuaries in Minnesota and one rescue in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Why animals? Fortunately, Lambert said, she hasn’t been touched personally by cancer or other tragedies that often connect people to charitable causes.
“I can’t imagine there’s anyone who hasn’t been touched by a pet in some way,” she said. “For me, it was a no-brainer. It made sense for me to use what I was given to help those that are kind of helpless.”
How she lives it: Growing up on a farm in a small town in southern Indiana, Lambert was surrounded by cattle, farm cats and farm dogs, but animal rescue wasn’t a familiar concept.
“Muppet is my first rescue dog,” she said. “We got her earlier this year, and it’s one of those things where I’m like, ‘Why wasn’t I doing this sooner?’ ” (She has another dog, Elliott.)
Lambert is a member of Pause 4 Paws’ board of directors and spreads her message on animal rescue through fundraisers as well as her dogs’ Instagram page.
The takeaway: “It’s really easy to help. Sometimes you can’t adopt a dog and sometimes you can’t afford to donate, but there are always ways to help,” Lambert said. “Sometimes it’s as simple as donating blankets in your house to a shelter; sometimes it’s fostering.”
Who: WCCO-TV (Channel 4) morning/noon anchor; Minnesota Monthly food editor and critic.
In his words: “Around one in five Minnesota families has to make a choice at some point during the month [between a meal and going to the dentist], and that’s criminal. Those of us who are lucky enough to have, I feel, have an obligation to try to fix this problem.”
Why he got involved: DeRusha has never had to worry about where his next meal was coming from, which is exactly why he wants to do his part to end childhood hunger in the Twin Cities area.
Because he’s involved in the local food scene — and enjoys some of the best dishes in town — DeRusha is committed to promoting Minnesota hunger initiatives.
“I feel very lucky to be surrounded by a very passionate community of chefs and restaurants and food entrepreneurs,” he said. “I owe it to try to give back to the people who don’t have access to that.”
How he lives it: DeRusha said the main thing he can do to help is to lend his name to draw attention to organizations in the Twin Cities that are working to eliminate food insecurity, and help them make money.
Sometimes his support comes in the form of a pie in the face. This year, DeRusha chaired the Minnesota FoodShare March Campaign (and took a pie to the face on TV), which gets food and money directly to 600 food shelves throughout the state. He’s emceed the Share Our Strength Taste of the Nation dinner in Minneapolis for several years.
At Second Harvest Heartland, DeRusha hosts events and is involved with the No Kid Hungry campaign.
The takeaway: “People have this idea that it’s homeless kids who are hungry or that it’s literal starvation that we used to see TV commercials about, and that’s not it,” DeRusha said. “It’s my neighbors, it’s kids who are going to my kids’ school.”
Who: Played 10 seasons in the NFL — seven years with the Green Bay Packers, two years with the Minnesota Vikings and one year with the Miami Dolphins.
In his words: “I think it’s important for someone like myself, who has a platform, to invest in the community and to try to make a difference and leave a positive, lasting influence on our youth.”
Why he got involved: Before Jennings could graduate from Western Michigan University, he was drafted by the Packers.
“I would be introduced as a college graduate, and I would have to correct that statement as I got up and spoke to different youth and leaders throughout the community,” Jennings said. “It was uncomfortable for me to do that.”
How he lives it: In 2008, Jennings and his wife, Nicole, started the Greg Jennings Foundation, which helps kids in danger of giving up on their education. The foundation raises money to provide grants to organizations that focus on youth education. It also supports education initiatives in his hometown of Kalamazoo, Mich., and in Green Bay, Wis.
Recently, Jennings created the Be Great Initiative through the foundation to keep kids in school. The program provides funding to various organizations throughout the Twin Cities area for school supplies and educational resources.
The takeaway: Happily retired, Jennings says he’s committed to keeping as many kids in the Twin Cities area from carrying the burden that he carried for many years when he didn’t complete his college education. At 24, Jennings finished his degree. He said he wants every kid to feel that sense of accomplishment.
“When it comes to education, it’s something that nobody can take away,” he said. “I know that sounds cliché and you hear that all the time, but it’s true.”