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Regions colleague leads campaign to be pronounced ‘Fed & Wed’

Jeff Loeks and his fiancée put their wedding on the line to feed children in need

When Saturday, Sept. 9 arrived, Regions Hospital Emergency Room technician Jeff Loeks couldn’t wait to marry his fiancée Racheal. She had the dress. He had the suit. And family and friends were on their way to celebrate.

The only problem was that the couple was not 100% sure they would actually say “I do” that day.

Why? Because Jeff and Racheal had made a vow that, in order for them to be wed, children in need in White Bear Lake must first be fed. In a food drive campaign they dubbed “Fed & Wed,” the pair said they would get married only after they filled an entire truck with donations for the KID Pack program.

“Many people don’t think kids in our White Bear Lake Area Schools are in need of food assistance,” said Jeff, who is also a former White Bear Lake firefighter. “But in reality, some really do. That’s why we wanted to help the White Bear Area Emergency Food Shelf with KID Packs. The program keeps kids in need from going hungry over the weekend by sending them home from school on Fridays with food.”

Fed and wed

In the weeks prior to their tentative Sept. 9 wedding, Jeff, Racheal and their combined 6 children began gathering food in the community, including at Regions Hospital. A local pastor promised to marry the duo free-of-charge if they filled the truck completely. And their campaign took off via social media and stories in the local newspaper and TV news.

Sizable donations steadily came in, but there was still some uncertainty as to if Jeff and Racheal’s goal would indeed be reached. And when the big day finally came, yet another curveball was thrown at them: a 24-foot-long truck pulled up, not a 12-foot one as planned. That meant that what they had collected previously filled up just 5% of the truck.

“When I learned about this, I have to admit I got a little nervous,” Jeff said. “We were adamant about not getting married until the truck was full.”

However unconventional, these pre-wedding jitters filled the 10 hours leading up to what Jeff and Racheal hoped would be their 6 p.m. ceremony in White Bear Lake’s Railroad Park. They watched neighbors, colleagues and others who had heard their story filter in to drop off donations, being sure to thank each and every one of them. And they held their breath as the pile of oatmeal cups, mac and cheese and other kids’ snacks grew in the back of the truck.

Image: Jeff and colleagues at Regions donating to Fed and Wed'

Jeff Loeks, center, collects donations to the Fed & Wed campaign from his colleagues at Regions Hospital.

“I really appreciated everything we received,” Jeff said. “My Regions colleagues dropped off items both before and day of. They played a big part. And then there’s something really special about the random people we didn’t even know who donated. One couple said they drove 3 hours from Wisconsin!”

At 6 p.m. it was time to decide if Jeff and Racheal could become husband and wife. With more than 3,800 pounds of food in tow, donated by nearly 1,000 supporters, White Bear Lake Mayor Jo Emerson officially declared the truck full. And Jeff and Racheal were finally pronounced “Fed & Wed.”

“Not many people get to have a wedding and a large charitable event on the same day,” Jeff said. “So to do what we did felt amazing.”

Jeff and Racheal are no strangers to charity work

Back in 2013, Jeff trekked the 150 miles from Duluth to White Bear Lake on foot. He did it to raise money for an ATV the White Bear Lake Fire Department badly needed. That fundraiser led to the creation of Special Teams Charities, which he and Racheal have helped run ever since.

Special Teams Charities supports local causes, doing one big event each year. While this year it was Fed & Wed, the group pulled off a toiletry item drive just as large in 2014. Members also do the annual Polar Plunge to support Special Olympics and sell a White Bear Lake Fire Department calendar to fund smaller projects.

“These events always remind me that people are truly inherently good,” Jeff said. “They inspire me to keep doing what we’re doing.”

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