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Image: (c) Jeff Frey)

Recent Blandin Foundation Grants Support Community Work in Small Towns and Townships

Grand Rapids, MINN. – Blandin Foundation Board of Trustees approved $3.6 million in grants at its December meeting, including a suite of projects that support community-identified priorities in small communities and townships across Itasca County.

Eighteen projects in communities from S-Lake to Keewatin, Bigfork to Blackberry Township received funding totaling $1.72 million to support projects that build forward toward stronger communities for people living, working, and contributing here.

“Living in a small town can sometimes mean living with fewer resources – access to funding and fewer hands to do the same amount of work found in larger towns to name a few,” said Sonja Merrild, Blandin Foundation grants director. “These projects, created by and for people living in our smallest communities, offer community builders a way to collaborate and carry forward projects important to their future.”

Projects were selected through a community-led process in partnership with a Community Economic Development Associates (CEDA) consultant, who is contracted by Itasca County. CEDA partners with rural regions across Minnesota to support planning and development, assist small businesses, write and manage grants, assist with city administration, and more.

The City of Keewatin plans to implement recommendations from their first community-wide survey, conduct a housing study, increase grant writing capacity and public communications online, and update signage with the support of a $150,000 grant. Through a $50,000 grant, the City of S-Lake will invest in public safety equipment, build grant writing capacity, and create a community-wide system for sharing public events. Buck Lake Improvement Club will make needed updates to their community kitchen and ball field among other projects with a $30,000 grant. A full list of projects can be found at

Local support is critical to moving these community projects forward. Funds held at the Grand Rapids Area Community Foundation and the Bigfork Valley Community Foundation offer a way for people living here to give what they can to grow and sustain their community into the future. Year-end, tax-saving donations of cash, real estate, stocks and bonds or IRA charitable distributions are all excellent options to invest in your community while reducing taxable income.

“Mr. Blandin was personally committed to investing in and growing the spirit of giving in the local area,” said Tuleah Palmer, Blandin Foundation president and CEO. “We see this spirit in the always-show-up, never-give-up attitude of our small towns. Their remarkable work and courage through this year of crisis and tragedy is amazing to witness and support through these grants.”

Also, among this quarter’s grants was $450,000 for a pilot project to test autonomous public transit in the City of Grand Rapids. The 18-month pilot is the first-ever rural, cold-weather project to test and advance affordable, automated vehicle transit in rural areas. The project will create a set 12-mile route around the City of Grand Rapids for access to local points of interest as well as reliable access to places of employment, social services, and necessities like groceries and medical care.

For a full grants list and information about Blandin Foundation grantmaking, visit


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