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A chance to give: Austin graduate taking different path to celebrating milestone

Like all seniors everywhere, Austin High School senior Katie Lillemon was hoping for special memory with graduation.

COVID-19 has put a halt to graduation plans, forcing people and schools to find alternative ways to celebrate the achievements of graduates.

Lillemon is no different, but as fate would have it, she already had plans to make her graduation special. Lillemon will be holding a food drive on Sunday, May 31, when people can visit her at St. Olaf Lutheran Church and drop of non perishable food items.

Once gathered, the food will be dispersed to food banks in Austin and the surrounding area. On top of that, a portion of any money and gifts Lillemon receives as part of the graduation experience will be donated to the American Red Cross.

“It wasn’t my original plan,” Lillemon said Wednesday, sitting out on her back porch with her parents, David and Diane Lillemon. I wanted to do something where we could all gather in one space and do something bigger with outreach.”

This wasn’t an idea that was forced upon her by the pandemic. Instead it was an idea she formulated during her junior year of high school.

“Last year, when I was going around to graduations, I knew I didn’t want a traditional graduation party. I knew there was so much I needed to do,” Lillemon said. “I came to my parents after the parties and asked if they would be okay with me having a service project rather than a party.”

Her parents, who are no strangers to their daughter’s desire to give back, agreed and weren’t surprised that it was the way she wanted to go.

“I wasn’t shocked, because Katie has been doing this for her whole life,” Diane said.

There’s been a lot of work though to get this set up, keeping the current situation in mind in the world of the coronavirus.

There are the statewide restrictions to keep in mind and social distancing. Masks will be worn and the process will be largely drive-through.

“We are working on making sure we have the set-up: social distancing and making sure people are safe,” Diane said. “People will be driving up to drop off items and they will be able to wish Katie well, but from a distance. We’re making sure we are still practicing good safety.”

There is no specific goal in mind in how much Lillemon wants to gather and raise. Instead, it’s a goal of simply wanting to connect.

“I don’t really necessarily have a goal for the goods I want to collect,” she said. “My goal is to feel closer to each other during this time when we are so separated.”

However, her parents have a hope as well. That perhaps this is something future graduating classes might pick up.

“This could be something that starts with an Austin HS graduate that has a vision of what could be done for other classes,” Diane said. “This could turn into something that lights a spark. There’s always opportunity.”

The drive will be from noon to 4 p.m. on May 31 at St. Olaf Lutheran Church.

If you can’t swing by on May 31 email austingradproject2020@gmail.com and arrangments will be made to pick them up.