Duluth’s ‘Cheerio Challenge’ gathers over 800 boxes, raises $50K

Cheerios stacked together01
The Duluth Cheerio Campaign collected more than 800 boxes of Cheerios for area food shelves as of Monday, pictured at the Duluth Labor Temple where people dropped off their donations.
Dan Kraker | MPR News

In less than a week, Duluth residents collected more than 800 boxes of Cheerios and raised over $50,000 for area food shelves, in a viral campaign prompted by billionaire Kathy Cargill’s suggestion that Duluth Mayor Roger Reinert had “peed in his Cheerios” after raising concerns about her purchase of more than a dozen homes on the city’s Park Point.

The campaign, dubbed the #DuluthCheerioChallenge and launched last Wednesday, inspired people from around the country to donate boxes of Cheerios and financial gifts to Duluth charities Chum, Damiano Center, Salvation Army and Union Gospel Mission during Minnesota Food Share Month.

“We know as Duluthians how we step up, and I think this is one more way to see that,” said Kate Van Daele, who helped organize the campaign, while standing in front of boxes of several varieties of Cheerios stacked five high that the campaign collected.

She said donations also came from around the country, from as far away as Arizona, Florida, Virginia and Washington state.

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Van Daele and a couple other Duluth residents, including Dana Kazel and Chad McKenna, brainstormed the idea last week after the Wall Street Journal published an article quoting Cargill saying “I’m not going to do anything to benefit that community,” and “there’s another community out there with more welcoming people than that small-minded community.”

Cargill’s purchases of several Park Point properties, many for well above market value — and then the subsequent razing of many of the homes — has rankled public officials and residents of the Duluth neighborhood that extends for seven miles along a narrow point beyond the Duluth lift bridge.

Cargill has remained largely silent on her intentions, despite calls for meetings from Reinert and others. She told the Wall Street Journal she had planned to build homes for family members and make other investments in the neighborhood, including a coffee shop and recreational facilities.

The charities said the donations are especially welcome because they come at a typically slow time of year, and at a time when demand is up, as well as prices.

“Our organization throughout the course of 2024, are seeing double the numbers of guests that we saw during 2023,” said Katie Hagglund, executive director of the Union Gospel Mission in Duluth.

“And in addition to that, we’re also combating double the cost, essentially, for food at the moment.”

Scott Van Daele, director of distributive services at Chum, said a few years ago he spend $3,500 to $4,000 per month on food. Now he spends three times that.

“And unlike grocery stores and restaurants where I can say I’m going to tack on 10 percent here or 12 there, we just can’t do it. And everybody needs the food that we’re giving away.”

While hunger isn’t something that will go away with a few boxes of cereal, Van Daele said the campaign has helped shine a bigger light on hunger across the region.

Seth Currier is executive director at the Damiano Center in Duluth, which serves breakfast every day to up to 150 people. He said for his organization, which serves cereal every day, the donations are a big help.

“This is so huge to have financial and physical donations to be able to help offset some of those food costs that just continue to rise,” Currier said.