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Nash Finch, Hugo’s donate $20,000 to Imagination Library

North Dakota first lady Betsy Dalrymple speaks Monday about the $20,000 given to the Stutsman County Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library by Nash Finch in conjunction with Hugo’s Family Marketplace.

By Kari Lucin / Jamestown Sun

Bright red and dark green balloons arched over the auditorium stage Monday at Jamestown High School, each representing one of the 800 children who will benefit from Monday’s $20,000 donation by Nash Finch Company and Hugo’s Family Marketplace.

And underneath the balloons, North Dakota first lady Betsy Dalrymple and Nash Finch CEO Alec Covington spoke of the importance of reading and education, and the benefit 12 books a year will bring for those 800 children.

“We’re all here today because we understand so deeply what it is you do, but also the challenges that you face,” Covington said, to an audience made up mostly of teachers and school staff. “We are dedicated to supporting our educators.”

The $20,000 in financial support is going to the Stutsman County Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library, the local branch of a program that mails a book a month to children age 0 to 5. Parents can sign up for free, and people can donate $25 to pay for a year’s worth of books for a single child.

The $20,000 check Covington offered Superintendent Rob Lech of Jamestown Public Schools matches the $20,000 already raised in the Stutsman County community.

“I know you will treasure each child in your classroom,” Dalrymple told the assembled teachers, calling the donation “amazing.”

Dalrymple has been a champion of the Imagination Library since early in her tenure as first lady, and has helped the program grow in North Dakota from eight affiliated groups in the state to more than 20.

“This is an exciting day, a wonderful, wonderful gift from Nash Finch,” Dalrymple said, citing research showing that children receiving Imagination Library books are more ready for school than other kids. “It’s a gift once a month in the mail. What child doesn’t like that?”

JPS isn’t directly involved in the Imagination Library project, but the JPS Foundation is the nonprofit gathering the donations — and JPS expects the program to help with students’ reading proficiency levels.

“It’s going to be great,” said Roger Haut, president of the Jamestown Public School Board. “It’s very welcomed.”

Haut said there’s a correlation between third-grade reading levels and dropout rates, and said the school is working on helping those younger kids so they don’t drop out later.

JPS has also had weak reading proficiency scores in many of its schools, as compared to its math proficiency numbers, and has identified reading as an area to work on.

Covington praised Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library and the Stutsman County community for already raising nearly $20,000.

He also recalled the early days of his marriage to teacher Gail Covington, who, in financially tough times, used her lunch money to purchase classroom supplies for her students in Tennessee. Back then, Covington said, he felt helpless, because he simply didn’t have any way to help.

“That was then, and this is now, and there are things we can do,” he said Monday, adding that every teacher in the auditorium would also receive a $10 gift certificate for classroom supplies, in addition to the $20,000 for the Imagination Library.

“We appreciate it, and this will touch a lot of young lives,” Lech said.

In an interview, Covington said Dave Borseth, store manager at the Jamestown Hugo’s location, initially brought the program to his attention.

“We researched it, and it turned out to be just an incredible program,” Covington said.

Donations like Monday’s, programs like Labels for Learning and charity work help attract people to Nash Finch and Hugo’s, Covington said. “Young people today connect to a purpose and a passion.”

Covington said he hopes to write more checks like the donation to the local Imagination Library, and suggested that could come from the Labels for Learning program, which offers schools 5 cents per Our Family UPC barcode. He encouraged the community to get more organized in its participation in Labels for Learning.

“I think there’s good enthusiasm here, and that’s what will make the program successful,” Dalrymple said of the Stutsman County Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library. “I think there is really huge enthusiasm here.”

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