Many St. James city leaders came together on Thursday night, January 3 to discuss the increasing need for child care in Watonwan County, and what steps the city of St. James can do to help the needy.

The need in St. James right now is great. The daycare that is run in conjunction with the public school has a waiting list that could be as long as two years. There is also a long waiting list for infants in St. James. The providers get calls daily by potential customers, but because of limits, they are unable to take more kids.

The meeting was the first step to find a solution to the problem and had great attendance. The city government was represented by Mayor Gary Sturm, City Manager Sam Hansen, and city council members. Many business leaders were also represented, noting it was important for their workers. The Chamber of Commerce was represented, as well as the Economic Development Association. Current childcare directors were there, as well as a working mom with a family.

The state of Minnesota is giving out five $10,000 grants for childcare to places in Southern Minnesota. Because of the small population of Watonwan County, it was decided to apply for a grant for the entire county. There will be two separate tasks forces formed, one covering the St. James and Butterfield areas, while the other one will cover the Madelia and LaSalle areas.

The group was divided into smaller groups to discuss the needs for Watonwan County. It was noted that ten home daycares have shut down in the county in the last eight years. One of the main reasons that daycares shut down is because it is hard to sustain profitability. There are many state regulations, and there are attendance limits.

The task force discussed past programs that residents of the city of St. James came together for, including the backpack program, the school pantry, Uniting Cultures, the Art Place, and healthy housing.

The need for late hour childcare was also brought up. Most daycares close at 5:30 PM, which doesn’t accommodate 2nd shift or late-night workers.

It was decided unanimously to apply for the grant. If the grant is awarded, the funds would be used to increase daycare opportunities in the counties. If the grant request is denied, there is still hope to find ways to accomplish the same goals.

Watonwan County has truly come together to address a need in the area. If there are no daycare options, it hurts everyone. These task forces will show a united front and hopefully accomplish the goal.