Each year, WSCO honors a West Side resident for their outstanding contributions to the community. This year, WSCO received so many nominations that we decided to honor three West Siders who have shown deep dedication to the values of the West Side.
- worked with other residents on behalf of the West Side
- regularly volunteered on the West Side or to the benefit of West Side residents
- provided significant leadership on a major issue or activity during the past year (or, over a series of years)
- made valuable contributions to the West Side
2020 Spark of the West Side
Payton Ortiz and his grandfather, Dan Wolff, and mother, Anna Wolff
Payton, his grandfather, and his mother sparked joy during a difficult time in the community by planting over 1,400 spinning pinwheels throughout their neighborhood. This random act of joy and love gave hope to neighbors struggling through isolation, stress, and sadness during the pandemic.
2020 Heart of the West Side
Jesus shares his love for the cultures, languages, and history of the West Side through art – from murals and electrical boxes to the tattoo shop. He is there for West Side neighbors when they need a helping hand, fixing cars, offering rides, and running errands. This year, he spent countless hours creating a larger-than-life art installation (a calavera) and a community altar to ensure annual community celebrations were special despite COVID-19.
2020 West Sider of the Year
In over two decades on the West Side, Maria has spent countless in service to the West Side. She played a key role in several organizations that brought fun, joy, and love to West Side youth. She’s a steadfast advocate for racial justice and helped start the Overcoming Racism conference from the basement of her church, Cherokee Park United. West Siders can count on her anytime to march in solidarity for justice, show up at City Hall and make some noise, or silently hold up a sign.
On Friday, the Minnesota Department of Health will open a free COVID-19 saliva testing location in St. Paul, the first saliva testing location to open in the Twin Cities. Below are excerpts from a Minnesota Health Department press release providing more information. Learn more about COVID-19 saliva testing in Minnesota.
Testing is free to all Minnesotans who believe they need a COVID-19 test, including those who are asymptomatic. Participants will be asked for their health insurance information so the state can bill their insurance company on their behalf. If a person is uninsured or for any reason insurance doesn’t cover some or all of the cost, the state will cover the difference so testing remains completely free to everyone.
The saliva test is a PCR test, just like the traditional nasal swab, with the same effectiveness rate; however, it is more comfortable to take. Those who come for a test should avoid eating, drinking, chewing, or smoking anything for at least 30 minutes before providing a sample. Once they arrive at the site, they will self-administer the test by spitting into a funnel attached to a small tube. Clinic staff will be available on-site to monitor the collection process.
The state opened the first saliva testing site in Duluth on Sept. 23. Since then, saliva testing locations have opened in Winona, Moorhead, Brooklyn Park, Mankato, and St. Cloud; state officials plan to open at least three more in the Twin Cities metro area in coming weeks. Those tests will be processed right here in Minnesota, at the new saliva lab in Oakdale. Results will be provided via email within 24-48 hours.
Testing will be located in the Roy Wilkins Auditorium, part of the Saint Paul RiverCentre complex at 175 Kellogg Blvd. Limited free parking will be available on the roof of the Saint Paul RiverCentre ramp. Metered parking is also available in Rice Park. To access the entrance to the Roy Wilkins Auditorium, people are encouraged to take the skyway from the RiverCentre Parking Ramp, enter the doors by the RiverCentre marquee sign on Kellogg Boulevard, or enter at the Rice Park entrance located on Washington Street, and follow directional signage.
175 W Kellogg Blvd
St. Paul, MN 55102
Free parking is available on the roof of the RiverCentre ramp. If that is full, metered parking is available in Rice Park.
- Skyway from the RiverCentre Parking Ramp, follow signs
- Doors by the main RiverCentre sign at 175 W Kellogg Blvd, follow signs
- Rice Park entrance on Washington Street near Herb Brooks statue, follow signs
Monday - Friday: 12 - 7 p.m.
Saturday - Sunday: 10 a.m. - 4 p.m.
Schedule Appointment with Vault Health
In the wake of George Floyd’s death and community uprisings, West Sider Leah Mathiason saw mutual aid efforts springing up across the Twin Cities that inspired her – and she wanted to act. As dozens of volunteers coordinated donations for thousands of nonperishable food items, Leah wondered, what about access to fresh food?
That’s how the West Side’s “FreeSA” was born. Riffing on produce exchange programs known as “CSA” (which stands for community-supported agriculture), the FreeSA project provided free fresh fruit and vegetables to West Siders at Parque Castillo on Sundays from August through September. “I’m inspired by communities who look out for each other,” Leah explains. “This project was just a small action to promote resilience in the community I care about.”
FreeSA grew and evolved each week. First Acre Farms, a vendor at the West Side Farmers Market, kicked off the project with a major produce donation. West Side gardeners shared vegetables, herbs, flowers, jelly, pickles, and more. West Side Seed Library organized a plant and seed exchange, and volunteers used the FreeSA as an opportunity to collect coats, hats, boots, and scarves to share with neighbors as temperatures dropped.
Have ideas for next year’s FreeSA? Send them to [email protected].
FreeSA was located in a high-traffic area of Parque Castillo. People stopped by on their way to and from the bus stop or La Clinica, curious about what was on offer. Neighbors bonded over gardening tips and got inspired to grow their own food.
Leah says the project helped her feel hope, connection, and purpose in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and a nationwide reckoning with the impacts of racism and police violence in our communities.
“I kept thinking to myself, ‘Why haven’t I done something like this before? Why haven’t I taken more action to address problems in my community?’ But we have to take those feelings and do something with them,” Leah explains. “We’ve been so isolated from each other because of the pandemic and so disconnected in a time when it feels urgent to reach out to each other. This produce exchange was one small way to do that.”
When Leah got the idea for the FreeSA, she knew she needed support to make it happen. She reached out to a neighbor who suggested Leah contact West Side Community Organization (WSCO). Just a few days after talking to Ellie Leonardsmith, WSCO’s Health and Environmental Justice organizer, Leah and Ellie set up the first FreeSA produce stand in Parque Castillo.
Leah encourages other West Siders to reach out to WSCO for support and as a platform to share ideas. “If you have an idea, something you’d like to see addressed on the West Side, WSCO is approachable and community-minded,” she explains. “You can submit a contact form on their website and a real person will reach out to talk. Just go and listen to WSCO’s West Side Voices meetings each month. When you’re comfortable, bring up your idea.”
Leah is a gardener, a mom, a chicken keeper, and one of the founders of the West Side Farmers Market. She’s been a public defender and doula. Now, she runs a nonprofit that provides healthcare to people in Haiti. In the midst of all that, she says that she’s energized by the work she does with neighbors on the West Side.
“Everybody’s got a role to play, and sometimes it takes time to figure out your role and what you have to offer,” Leah says. “I was overthinking it so much, and then it just came to me. This is something that I’m good at. This is what I enjoy. This is what I have to share.”
Have ideas for next year’s FreeSA? Send them to [email protected].