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Kandiyohi County homeless to get help from new group

Family Promise of Kandiyohi County, a new group modeled after the national program Family Promise, is organizing churches in Willmar and Kandiyohi County to help the homeless find temporary food and shelter, reports David Little of the West Central Tribune. So far, Calvary Lutheran Church, United Methodist Church and Vinje Lutheran Church in Willmar and Svea Lutheran Church in Svea have agreed to participate. Organizers say they need nine more churches to launch the project. The churches feed and house four or five homeless families for one week on a rotating basis so each congregation hosts four times per year. They also offer counseling to identify the underlying causes of homelessness, and national organizers say they have a 70 percent success rate at getting families into permanent housing at half the cost of a typical homeless shelter. 

Austin cigarette sellers are calling smokers’ bluff about negative reaction to an increased sales tax on cigarettes, according to the Austin Daily Herald. “They say once it reaches $5, they’re quitting,” said Jan Heim, owner of Ankeny’s Mini Mart. “People say they’re going to quit, but they don’t.” A bill introduced last week in the Minnesota Legislature proposes raising cigarette taxes by $1.60 per pack rather than the 94 cents-per-pack suggestion Gov. Mark Dayton made in January. The increase would generate an estimated $441 million over two years. While customers complain about higher cigarette taxes and therefore more money out of their pocket, Heim said, she doesn’t expect any dip in business. “I sell a lot of cigarettes,” she said. Jim Baldus, owner of Jim’s Marketplace Foods, said the tax increase could initially send smokers across the border to find less expensive cigarettes like they did the last time the cigarette tax jumped. But he said they came back. “They’ll trade down to cheaper brands,” he said. And while Jim’s Marketplace sells thousands of packs of cigarettes a week, selling them brings relatively little profit. If there were to be an increase in cigarette sales, it would make little impact on the business, Baldus said.

U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar praised Microbiologics of St. Cloud as one of the state’s leaders in the export economy, writes Mark Sommerhauser of the St. Cloud Daily Times. On Monday, Klobuchar visited the expanded Microbiologics facility in St. Cloud and presented employees with a U.S. Commercial Services certificate recognizing the company’s success in exporting to 140 countries. Microbiologics makes safety testing material for pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, food and other items. Klobuchar said Minnesota’s export sector is stronger than other states. “It’s one of the major reasons we’ve kept our heads above water during the downturn — that we are willing to look beyond our borders,” she said. “When you look at our success, it’s about companies like this.”

Kylie Saari of the Fairmont Sentinel found that several bars in Southern Minnesota have started offering electronic pull-tabs. A Northop bar with the amazing name Aajax Likker became the first bar in Martin County to offer the games, followed by Granada Bar and Grill in Granada and Rail Yard Bar and Grill in Trimont. The games are a hit. "We have a lot of Vikings fans who come in and want to support the stadium," said Aajax owner Jim Tow. Bars must spend about $1,000 for a secure wi-fi connection for the e-pull tabs. The investment has proved worth it so far. Within the first five days of offering the devices, the bar saw a marked increase in participation. "We have sold more electronic pull-tabs [in five days] than we have paper ones in two weeks," said Aajax Likker manager Sandy Olson.

Austin police had their hands full with two skirmishes at a ballroom this weekend. Brett Boese of the Rochester Post-Bulletin reports that when officers arrived at the El Parral Ballroom at 12:31 a.m. Sunday, they arrested a 36-year-old Blooming Prairie man after several witnesses said he broke a beer bottle over the head of a 27-year-old man, according to Austin Police Chief Brian Krueger. The suspect is in jail; the victim was transported to Mayo Clinic Health System via ambulance for treatment. While officers were handling that scuffle, Krueger said additional officers were required for another problem at the ballroom. According to Krueger, a 42-year-old man and a 17-year-old boy, both from Albert Lea, were sent via ambulance to the Mayo Clinic Health System after an altercation with a 26-year-old Albert Lea man. The male victim was treated for a head injury while the boy suffered a lacerated hand. The suspect remains at large and Krueger said it's unclear if the incidents are related.

The fun’s not over in Austin. Boese of the Post-Bulletin also reports of an Austin man who entered a not guilty plea last week in Mower County District Court on a charge that he kicked his brother in the head because of alleged flatulence. According to the court complaint, Hector Alonzo Estrada, 33, kicked his brother in the head after the brother allegedly passed gas. Estrada denies any wrongdoing, claiming his brother simply fell and hit his head. Estrada is charged with domestic assault which, because of Estrada's prior legal history, carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Live Well Winona is sponsoring a contest to let local cooks put a new recipe on the Winona Middle School lunch menu, according to the Winona Daily News. Entrants can send in recipes for an original side dish of between 1/4 and 1/2 cup that is meatless, whole grain and has less than 3 grams of fat and less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving. The top six finalists will prepare their dish for a panel of judges. The top two recipes will be served to all Winona Middle School students. Students will vote for their favorite side dish and the winner’s recipe will be used in the 2013-14 school-lunch menu.

Worthington natives Cy Amundson and Joel Hoekstra have sold a pilot to MTV, reports the Worthington Daily Globe.  The show, “Watching the Wilsons,” will have the look and feel of a reality show but will be a hybrid of script and improvisation. The Daily Globe says the pilot is “similar to the E! reality show ‘Keeping Up with the Kardashians,’ mixed with a bit of the Bluths from ‘Arrested Development’ and the Pritchetts from ‘Modern Family.’ ” Amundson will star, and he and Hoekstra will be executive producers with Samantha Saifer, Jay Blumenfield and Tony Marsh. Hoekstra and Amundson won’t find out if the show will become a series until later this year. Amundson was named CMT’s Next Big Comic for 2011 and will perform March 26-30 at the Acme Comedy Co. in Minneapolis. 

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