An Alexandria couple has discovered a way to unite their disparate backgrounds to create a new opportunity for local kids who love art.
Philip Kraft, a trucker, and Chanda Kraft, an artist, have started a local organization called Cardboard Cares. They had been talking about ways to create more art opportunities in the community when the price of cardboard plummeted and Philip noticed that cardboard was piling up around area businesses.
He used to own a business hauling tomatoes into Canada from Miami, and figured they could make money hauling cardboard when the price rose. Plus, it would help out local businesses, who were having trouble finding takers for their used boxes.
Meanwhile, Chanda, with degrees in education and graphic design, started assembling art kits and offering art lessons to kids at events like the Art DeTour and the Saturday Art Market in Big Ole Park alongside the Farmers Market. She started a YouTube channel called Chanda Kraft Art & Design offering videos of less than half an hour teaching kids to paint things like sailboats or flowers, or even turning a sidewalk crack into whatever their imagination sees.
The couple has two school-age children and noticed they were only getting one art class a week.
“We didn’t feel it was enough and we felt we needed to do something about it,” Philip said.
They decided to form a nonprofit, which is still in the works, but also knew that they didn't want to rely solely on donations, which can be unreliable. Philip spoke to local business owners who agreed to let him take their unwanted cardboard. He acquired a used semi truck and trailer and they started Cardboard Cares.
One day, while Philip was collecting cardboard, he was spotted by Shaynen Schmidt, co-owner of Alex Rubbish and Recycling. Schmidt was curious and asked him what he was doing, and ultimately offered to help. Alex Rubbish and Recycling now lease the Krafts 4,800 square feet of space, enough for a cardboard baler that Philip needed to pack the cardboard into usable bales. The baler takes up about a third of the space, Schmidt said. Two of Schmidt's distinctive red dumpsters, one of them at Elden's, have been devoted to collecting cardboard, and the company also diverts the rest of its cardboard to Cardboard Cares. They also let Philip use a skidloader and forklift to load his semi truck.
“I’ve seen his vision and what he’s trying to do,” Schmidt said. "Anything that’s better for our community, we’re all for it. We try to support the community as much as we can.”
The Krafts said they would like to help bring a long-time dream of area visual artists to reality: To create an art gallery with education space along the lines of the Kaddatz in Fergus Falls, where Chanda has taught in the past. Alexandria has a vibrant theater scene, and they would like to offer a similarly strong visual arts center.
Mimi Seykora, a board member of the Alexandria Art Guild, said there is a strong desire locally for more art exposure and classes, for children and for adults. One of her recent pottery classes filled up with a waiting list of 11, she said.
“There are classes that Community Ed continues to put on but we need more exposure and the kids need it,” she said. "The kids need that exposure and art release more than ever.”
Art provides a tactile experience that can help students forget everything else in their lives, she said, and she has appreciated Chanda's short, quick art lessons for children.
“What I’ve seen they have done is really really fun and the kids have loved it,” Seykora said. “This seems to be really taking off for Chanda and Philip.”
She called the Krafts' venture a "great opportunity" that also has a socially responsible side in encouraging people to recycle.
The Krafts plan to have a booth from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, by the floral door at Elden's. The first 50 kids will get a free sketch kit, and everyone will get to do a free art project.
Local grocery stores and manufacturers have teamed up to help, as have other area businesses.
Said Philip: “We took it on faith that people would get behind us, and that’s what happened.”