The motto of the Boy Scouts is “Be Prepared.”
But neither 15-year-old Jon Ashbrook nor the people at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs were prepared to deal with this.
As part of his Eagle Scout project, Ashbrook decided to collect dry goods and other nonperishable items for Fisher House in Minneapolis, part of a network of houses near VA hospitals that provide a home away from home at no cost for family members of veterans who are being treated.
Throughout October, Ashbrook and some of his Scout colleagues left notices on neighbors’ houses that they would be collecting for the project. Ashbrook, an Edina High School sophomore, also made a plea during services at Calvary Lutheran Church in Edina.
More than 150 grocery bags of collections later, Ashbrook was prepared to deliver the goods, only to find out that Fisher House is closed for remodeling and can’t accept his offerings until mid-November.
Undeterred, Ashbrook is pressing on. And while the remodeling has created a temporary dilemma, the Fisher House people are grateful for his efforts.
For the past several weeks, the basement of the Ashbrook home in south Minneapolis has been a depository for paper goods, bottled water, cleaning supplies, cereals, soups and coat hangers.
‘I thought veterans’
Ashbrook had to complete a project to benefit his community as part of the requirements to become an Eagle Scout. He originally had a more modest plan, but his mother suggested he not just get it done, but actually do something with a lasting impact.
“I thought veterans,” he said. He learned about Fisher House on the Minneapolis VA campus and discovered it ran on private donations. Any money they don’t spend on toothpaste or deodorant can go toward expansion.
“I was very surprised that no one’s heard of Fisher House. They do some really amazing work and get no recognition. I thought this would be a way to get them some good PR,” Ashbrook said.
In two weekends, he and about 20 other Scouts hit about 500 houses. Cub Foods in Edina donated about 500 grocery bags and the FedEx in Edina donated 450 printed fliers.
His humble project was taking on a life of its own and he was learning lessons about how to get things done.
“It’s a good way for the community to easily give back,” he said. “They want to give back, but they don’t know how, so, ‘Oh, just drop off some food in a bag,’ and they feel good about themselves.”
Well into his collecting, he learned that Fisher House was undergoing remodeling and would not be able to accept his bounty for a while, forcing him to leave the bags in his basement a little longer. No one in the Ashbrook household will be using the NordicTrack downstairs anytime soon.
Thanks from Fisher House
Ashbrook’s efforts have been well-received. The first Fisher House in Minneapolis was built in 1995 with 10 rooms that quickly reached capacity. A second 20-room house was built in 2010. Volunteers prepare meals and the houses go through supplies like paper plates, cups and plastic utensils with abandon.
“Not only is it a good thing for the Fisher House but it’s also a good learning experience for a young person to get into the routine of giving,” said Marge Oslund, a 35-year VA employee who runs the Minneapolis Fisher House.
Even after the remodeling is complete, it will take some time to absorb the impact of his work.
“There isn’t that much storage,” Oslund said. “We’re going to have to work out a system to take so many at a time. That’s a lot of stuff. He did a really good job.”
When everything is settled, a sloppy Joe or potluck dinner is being planned at Fisher House to celebrate.
Ashbrook said he hopes to have all his requirements completed by December and could receive the Eagle Scout award by the beginning of the year. He said he also can use the experience for a college essay or for schoolwork. But his main lesson has been the value of giving back.
“I want to have great experiences like this,” he said. “That’s probably the coolest thing I could do at my age.”