Community

These keepsakes made from derecho-damaged trees benefit Cedar Rapids area nonprofits

Dawson Revers, 17, of Cedar Rapids, a student at Prairie High School and Iowa BIG participant, sands a derecho fundraisi
Dawson Revers, 17, of Cedar Rapids, a student at Prairie High School and Iowa BIG participant, sands a derecho fundraising coaster at NewBoCo in southeast Cedar Rapids last Thursday. Orders are being taken through Oct. 30 for sets of four, sporting various laser-etched designs, to benefit area nonprofits impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and Aug. 10 derecho. (Rob Merritt)
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NewBoCo, Indian Creek Nature Center, Brucemore and Iowa BIG students are carving a piece of history out of the derecho, for good.

Pieces from the fallen trees at the Nature Center and Brucemore’s historic estate are being turned into coasters in time for holiday giving — and for giving a helping hand to area arts and cultural nonprofits.

Orders must be placed by Oct. 30, so the coasters can be ready for pickup or delivery by the target date of Dec. 6. That gives the staff and volunteer elves at NewBoCo and Iowa BIG, as well as the supplying chain-saw gang, the month of November to cut, sand, dry, laser etch the logos, seal the surfaces and add protective cork to the underside of each piece.

Late last week, orders already had stacked up for 2,400 coasters. Cost is $20 for a set of four, and buyers can choose logos from 21 nonprofits, including museums, performing arts groups and presenters. Seven more whimsical designs include “Cedarecho” and “Dumpster Fire 2020,” “Iowa Chainsaw Massacre” and an uplifting “Iowa Strong.” Even a blank set is in the mix.

Proceeds will be split among the nonprofits, with one-third going to the organization whose logo is purchased.

How to buy Derecho Drink Coasters

When: Orders accepted through Oct. 30 at derecho2020.myshopify.com

Cost: $20 per set of four branded coasters, on view at derecho2020.myshopify.com/collections/frontpage

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Proceeds: Divided among designated Eastern Iowa arts and culture nonprofits

Organizers: NewBoCo, Iowa BIG, Indian Creek Nature Center, Brucemore

Ready date: Dec. 6

The idea for derecho coasters

The fundraiser “was kind of a lark, and seems to have caught some wind here,” said Eric Englemann, NewBoCo’s executive director. Short for New Bohemian Innovation Collaborative, the nonprofit organization supports entrepreneurship, innovation and tech education, and operates out of the Geonetric building in Cedar Rapids’ NewBo District.

“We were just talking about ways we could help the nonprofits in the area, and in particular, the arts and culture ones,” he said. “It seems like a lot of the ones that are more health and human service-focused have found ways to raise money in the aftermath of COVID and derecho.

“I’m also an owner in a wedding venue and event center, and friends with a bunch of other nonprofits around here, and we were talking about how much pain a lot of those organizations are in. We thought NewBoCo could help raise money in some creative way. So we thought, ‘What do we have a lot of for cheap raw materials?’ We have a lot of wood around here.”

And Indian Creek Nature Center and Brucemore have “a lot of wood to part with,” Englemann said. Those groups are supplying and cutting the wood, since they have the expertise and equipment.

The Nature Center lost just over half of its tree canopy, said Executive Director John Myers, and sustained damage to its forest, trails, outbuildings and barns at the farm the organization owns north of Marion. The main buildings — the Amazing Space and the original barn/center nearby — are fine, Myers said, adding that volunteers have worked more than 1,000 hours since the Aug. 10 storm.

Brucemore lost 70 percent of its tree canopy and sustained $2.5 million in damages to buildings and grounds. Coasters with the Brucemore logo will be made from its fallen trees.

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The goal: To come back resilient

“We have the opportunity to take not only the pandemic, but the storm, and make lemonade out of lemons,” Myers said. “We have all this wood, and this, of course, will not get rid of even a fraction of it, and that’s not the goal. The goal is to celebrate the fact that we can come back and we can be resilient, as this community has been since the (2008) flood. ...

“It’s not just about the Nature Center or Brucemore,” he said. “It’s really about the entire cultural and arts nonprofit community. This is one of the things that makes this community great. This is probably just a small piece of it, but we want (Theatre Cedar Rapids) to be healthy, we want (NewBo City Market) to be healthy, we want the Museum of Art to be healthy. If they’re healthy, then the Nature Center and Brucemore will be well. The more we can help each other out, the better off we’ll be.”

The wood grain in the coasters is a thing of beauty springing from the sorrow of the storm’s destruction, Myers pointed out.

“A lot of people have been chain-sawing and clearing over the past two months, and wood may not have a positive vibe for some of us right now, so to be able to take this and turn it into a beautiful piece one is one of our goals,” he said.

Coaster production has barely begun, Englemann noted, but so far, a couple of students from Iowa BIG, an initiative-based high school enrichment program, are participating and learning about laser etching technology and e-commerce alongside NewBoCo staff and interns. NewBoCo will call upon its volunteer network for packaging and distribution.

“We’ve sold way more than we expected,” Englemann said. He was hoping to sell $10,000 worth of coasters over a three-week period, but sales have exceeded that, and he’s worried they may have to end sales early so they can fill the orders already placed.

“Originally, (the goal) was to do something fun for a few people,” Englemann said. “Now, it’s really about helping all the nonprofits that are hurting because of COVID and derecho, that can’t do the events, that can’t do the programs where normally they make money — to help them grow and thrive. And maybe this is an easy thing that we can do that’s kind of fun and unique. Something that may be a keepsake that people can have for a long time to remember 2020 by — for good or bad.”

“Trees are such a benefit to the environment,” Myers said. “We lost a lot of trees, and we have a lot of work to do in front of us, but this way is one way we are able to celebrate the great trees that we did have.”

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Derecho Drink Coasters fundraiser

When: Orders accepted through Oct. 30 at derecho2020.myshopify.com

Cost: $20 per set of four branded coasters, on view at derecho2020.myshopify.com/collections/frontpage

Proceeds: Divided among designated Eastern Iowa arts and culture nonprofits

Organizers: NewBoCo, Iowa BIG, Indian Creek Nature Center, Brucemore

Ready date: Dec. 6

Comments: (319) 368-8508; diana.nollen@thegazette.com

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