ST. CLOUD -- Everyone is adjusting to the parameters of life during the coronavirus outbreak - and candidates for political office are no exception.

St. Cloud area educator Aric Putnam began running as a Democrat for Minnesota Senate District 14 last fall. While face-to-face campaign and political organizing events for Putnam are currently off the table, he and his team are finding ways to stay engaged with the community in virtual space. 

"Every Sunday, we do a Zoom/Facebook Live town hall," Putnam explained. "We get people from CentraCare and other experts on different issues to answer community questions."

The town hall events are held on Putnam's official campaign Facebook page. He says a recent town hall meeting pulled in local business owners to discuss and answer questions on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected central Minnesota's economy.

"(Business owners) shared what it's like to struggle right now," he said. "It's totally non-partisan, and a way for people to get updates on the latest news. It's very local, and we're getting really great attendance at these events, because people have so many questions."


Putnam's campaign crew is also leading community service activities in physical space.  Last week, the group organized a two-day event at Bethlehem Lutheran Church in St. Cloud, packaging and distributing food to area families. The team also coordinated efforts to send hand written letters to local senior citizens, many of whom are housebound and isolated during the pandemic.

This spring, the campaign will also lead a group of teenagers in socially-distanced Mississippi River cleanup activities - an idea that came directly from the teens, says Putnam.

"The first thing (the teens) wanted to do, when they thought of civic engagement, was to take on a river cleanup,"' he said. "So, we'll gather the high schoolers and whoever else wants to participate, and go pick up litter by the river. And, it's really easy to do while staying six feet apart."

Putnam says traditional campaigning isn't a high priority at the moment, and he's not certain when it will be.

"If (Governor Tim Walz's) stay at home order changes in the next month or so, I might start doing a little bit of door-knocking," Putnam said. "But I don't know if or when that's going to happen. Our focus has been and is on the community dimension. We'll find ways to work in the politics when we have to."

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