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KBJR6’s top 5 bright spots, reminding you there was (just a little) good in 2020

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DULUTH, MN-- At midnight, 2020 will be over. That's no doubt a relief to many after a year marked by a deadly pandemic and a divisive presidential campaign.

In all the dark, there were moments of light, and that's what we're choosing to look back on as this difficult year comes to a close.

Here are KBJR 6's Top 5 bright spots of 2020, in no particular order:

1) Businesses Pitch In

When the pandemic kicked into high gear in March, so did Northland businesses. Many changed gears just as quickly as our world changed.

One of the first was Frost River Trading Co. Owner Chris Benson and his team went from producing outdoor gear to making personal protective equipment, shielding health care workers, and first responders from the deadly virus.

"When I look at our staff - would they pause and set aside the bags that we're making? In a heartbeat, if they can be part of the cause and help provide PPE for people around the country," said Benson.

Duluth Pack and Stormy Kromer in Ironwood also joined the cause.

Vikre went from distilling spirits to using those spirits to create an in-demand product: hand sanitizer. Then, they gave it away for free.

"What we're making is spray sanitizer. It's 70% alcohol," said distillery co-owner Joel Vikre. "We did research on CDC and WHO guidelines to make sure we could make something safe and effective."

Just about every business had to change how they operated to keep customers and staff safe, and are still adapting today.

2) B&B Market Food Train

After 8-year-old Blake Conklin's leukemia diagnosis in 2018, the Cloquet community stepped up to help his family. So, when the pandemic started, Blake's dad Lenny decided to give back to Cloquet.

He walked into the B&B Market and bought hundreds of dollars of food to be given away to whoever needed it.

The gift was posted on Facebook and it sparked a food train, inspiring many others to donate.

Blake himself donated the $20 that took the runaway food train over the $100,000 mark.

"Amazing. I never would've thought it'd be $100,000. It's been unreal," said Lenny Conklin.

It was an incredible community effort that ensured people having a tough time could feed their families.

3) Max Mason Pardon

In June, the City of Duluth marked the 100th anniversary of a mob lynching three Black men for raping a white woman.

Elias Clayton, Isaac McGhie, and Elmer Jackson died for a crime they did not commit.

Max Mason was eventually found guilty of the rape without any evidence.

This year, the Minnesota Board of Pardons voted unanimously to clear Mason's name, making history.

He became the first person in the state to be pardoned after their death, righting the wrong a century after it happened.

"We said for a long time that he was innocent, but now it's true and in print and we know it to be true. It's a very exciting time and a huge time for Minnesota to go back and recognize a wrong that was done," said Carl Crawford, Duluth's Human Rights Officer.

4) A Real Thanksgiving

On a holiday where we traditionally eat a big meal, many in the Northland were struggling to put food on the table.

At the same time, the annual Twin Ports Thanksgiving Day Buffet at the DECC had to be canceled due to COVID.

Hundreds of volunteers spent thousands of hours cooking meals, preparing food bags, and delivering them to people in need.

It was a herculean effort that showed the true meaning of Thanksgiving and what can be achieved when people pull together.

"It feels great," said volunteer Julian Kycia. "There's a lot of people in need in our community. For us, I think it makes us feel together as a group, as well as a community. So, it's really special."

Volunteers delivered 1,000 bagged lunches to organizations like CHUM and the Damiano Center and 2,300 hot meals to homes around the Twin Ports.

5) Bentleyville's Indomitable Spirit

The Northland's resiliency may have shined brightest at Bentleyville.

After fears the pandemic would force the light show to shut down this year, organizers instead adapted it to be a drive-thru event for the very first time.

It involved reorganizing the entire lay-out, handling tons of traffic, and even buying special mats to protect Bayfront.

On December 23, a blizzard rolled through, knocking down the display. Volunteers pulled together, repairing the damage in time for it to re-open on Christmas.

Now, unlike year's past, organizers are keeping the lights on through New Year's Eve at midnight, giving people a safe way to celebrate.

The iconic Duluth light show is banishing the darkness of 2020 and starting 2021 with hope for a brighter future.

Tune in to the KBJR 6 News at 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. for the full look back at all the good in 2020.

Bonney Bowman

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