Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Kids helping kids celebrate on the prairie & more January 29, 2014

A CANDLE-TOPPED CAKE and a small toy may not seem like much to celebrate a birthday.

But to a child in need, both mean a great deal.

The birthday cake booklet from my childhood that Bernie found on eBay.

The booklet from which my siblings and I chose our birthday cake designs.

I understand. Growing up in a poor farm family on the southwestern Minnesota prairie, I did not receive gifts from my parents on my birthday. They had no money for such extras. Rather, my mom pulled out her 1959 General Foods Corporation’s Baker’s Coconut Animal Cut-Up Cake booklet so I could choose a design for my birthday cake.

My second birthday and the clown cake my mom made for me.

Me with the clown cake my mom made for my second birthday.

With those birthday memories on my mind, I was pleased to read Tuesday of a community service project undertaken by the Class of 2019 at Westbrook-Walnut Grove Public Schools, 45 minutes to the south of my hometown of Vesta.

Students are assembling birthday bags for Mary and Martha’s Pantry, a Westbrook-based food shelf, according to information in the January 28 issue of the Westbrook/Walnut Grove Charger Report on the school website.


Birthday gift bags will include cake mixes. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

The gift bags will include a cake mix, frosting, candles, a Happy Birthday banner and a small toy. How sweet is that? I love to learn about kids doing good.


SOME 170 MILES to the north and east in the Twin Cities metro, Eagan-based Cheerful Givers has provided birthday gift bags to 700,000-plus children during the past 20 years.

The non-profit’s mission is to “provide toy-filled gift bags to food shelves and shelters so that parents living in poverty can give their child a birthday gift. We believe this simple gesture boosts self-esteem, enhances self-worth, and strengthens bonds in families.”

And might I add, these bags filled with 10 items like books, plush toys, puzzles, stickers and more, simply make a child happy.

Two months from today, on Saturday, March 29, Cheerful Givers is celebrating its 20th birthday with “The Great Minnesota Birthday Party” in the Sear’s Court at the Mall of America. The goal of the 1 – 3 p.m. event is to raise $20,0000 and “to spread awareness of the need for all kids to be recognized with a gift on their birthday.”


Back on the prairie, far from the big city, teens at Westbrook-Walnut Grove Public Schools aren’t planning a fundraiser for the Mary and Martha’s Pantry birthday bags. Rather, they are dipping in to their own funds (or those of their parents and others) to purchase gift bag items. And in the process, they are learning, in my opinion, that “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”


FYI: To learn more about the W-WG school project, click here and see #13 in the Charger report.

To learn more about Eagan-based Cheerful Givers, click here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


19 Responses to “Kids helping kids celebrate on the prairie & more”

  1. Beth Ann Says:

    Love this idea! And my brother had that coconut lion cake!!! My mom made our birthdays extra special with cakes like that, too! I tried to get on board with a birthday themed donation at the local domestic violence shelter here but by the time I saw the info a local company had already jumped in and taken care of it for the next couple of years so my Comments for a Cause for that month went to supplies for the women and children housed there. I love the birthday idea—what a great idea that everyone can support in a small way.

  2. What a lovely idea! I am certain that this would be used and appreciated here in Wgtn.

  3. I love donating cake mixes, muffin mixes and cookie mixes to the food shelf bin at the grocery store. I know I do not eat this all the time and these items are usually limited or lacking completely in the bin. I will have to remember to add frosting next time I do this. Nice to have a Sweet Treat! Thanks so much for sharing – loved the homemade birthday cakes growing up and still do as an adult:) Happy Hump Day!

  4. Jackie Says:

    It warms my heart to hear of what these kids are doing! Giving makes a person feel so good inside, dont you think 🙂 I Love the photo of you and the clown cake, such a sweet thing your mom did for you on your birthday.

    • Oh, yes, my mom is incredible. She always made us feel special by baking those cakes of our choice. I continued the tradition with my own kids, letting them choose whatever character or animal they wanted for a cake. I crafted Piglet, PEEF, a horse, Garfield, Frosty the Snowman and many more cakes. Of course, my kids, unlike me, also got presents.

      And, yes, I love when kids participate in community service projects, too. They learn so much by giving of themselves.

  5. hotlyspiced Says:

    It sounds like you grew up in a very loving home. I love that photo of you with your clown cake. And I wish I had a copy of that cake book – there’d be some great inspiration and designs in there for sure. I love the sound of that charity – how lovely to be doing something like this for disadvantaged children xx

    • My friend Bernie, who blogs at One Mixed Bag, found the cake booklet online and presented it to me as a sweet surprise. I don’t know what happened to the original one my mom had. You would love this booklet, Charlie, given all the beautiful cakes you create.

      And, yes, I grew up in a loving home, which trumps all the birthday gifts in the world. I never felt poor growing up because of my loving family.

      I love what the kids and Cheerful Giving are doing for kids and their families with these birthday bags.

  6. Thread crazy Says:

    What a neat idea Audrey. I just love when the kids get involved. The birthday bags are special and just as our Moms made us feel special on our day, all children should feel the same. I’m always giving to the food bank here in our town and I’ll have to remember to take something sweet next time. Like you, I usually make my cakes from scratch, but then there are those recipes that call for a cake mix, so I keep a couple on hand.

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