A gift of Easter

  • Article by: ALICIA ROSS WITH BEVERLY MILLS , United Features Syndicate
  • Updated: April 4, 2010 - 8:00 PM

Families for whom a holiday dinner wasn't a certainty Sunday were embraced by the holiday spirit - and a friendly bunny - at a Minneapolis restaurant.

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Jerisha Cooper 16, and her sister Jeniya, 1, were greeted by the Easter bunny (aka Kirsten Farmer) during the annual Spring Gathering Sunday at the Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery in downtown Minneapolis. The event made Easter a special holiday treat for about 300 people.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune

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Little Jeniya Cooper waved and smiled at the Easter bunny, but only from a safe distance. Even after the bunny tilted back its giant, fluffy head to reveal a friendly human beneath, the toddler stuck to her big sister, Jerisha, like a Peep left too long in the sun.

The sisters were among the families at the Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery in downtown Minneapolis on Sunday for its third Spring Gathering event. A turkey dinner with fixings was placed on white linen cloths spread over every table; an especially springtime touch came from a cake dessert swirled with raspberries. Pool tables were transformed into craft stations where kids could decorate plastic Easter eggs, choose treat baskets, or just cast sidelong glances at the Easter bunny.

The Rock Bottom Foundation has for years hosted similar events during the Christmas season at its restaurants across the country. Three years ago, Jim Gose had the idea to spread the goodwill past the usual winter holiday crunch and to provide a place at Easter for families who may not have the resources to gather.

Gose, the managing partner of Rock Bottom in Minneapolis, said he works with the Harriet Tubman Center, Catholic Charities and Southside Family Nurturing Center to make families aware of the event. Mars M&M's Candy donates treats for the Easter baskets.

For Tara VanKampen of St. Paul, the meal was a time for her son, Josh Christen, 14, to reconnect with friends made while he was at St. Joseph's Home for Children in Minneapolis.

The event "is a kind gesture," VanKampen said. "It's kind of nice to see families come together, and we've never been to this restaurant. Times are tough for everyone and it's kind of hard to keep your chin up, so events like this put a smile on everyone's face."

The restaurant provided bus rides for those guests who needed transportation.

Additional sponsors included Sysco Foods, Bix Produce, First Student Buses and Old Chicago Restaurants.

Goss said he expected to serve 300 people during the three-hour event, which would be fewer than last year. "That's not a bad thing," he said, noting that 350 invitations had gone out. "There maybe aren't as many families in need this year."

Jeniya Cooper may not have found the Easter bunny's lap to her liking, but the Minnetonka toddler happily clutched her basket of treats, leaving one hand free for her big sister.

Kim Ode • 612-673-7185

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