Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Double your Red Kettle donations this Saturday in Rice County December 1, 2017


WHEN MARION CALLED to remind Randy and me of our Salvation Army bell-ringing slot this Saturday, she also shared good news. Every dollar donated to the Rice County Red Kettle Campaign on December 2 will be matched up to $2,500. How generous is that?

An anonymous donor from Faribault is offering the match, a move I hope encourages people to give even more generously to a program focused on neighbors helping neighbors.

The gift repeats on December 16 with a maximum $5,000 match from another anonymous Faribault donor, according to Gina Little who co-chairs the county campaign with her husband, Ed.

I’m confident folks can reach those max matches, moving toward the $50,000 Red Kettle goal in Rice County.


Randy and I will be at this location outside Walmart on Saturday morning ringing bells. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Saturday morning Randy and I will station ourselves at the Walmart north location to accept donations. We’re happy to once again volunteer with our church, Trinity Lutheran. Others from Trinity will ring at Walmart south, HyVee and Fareway in Faribault. Bell ringers are also on-site in Northfield and Lonsdale.

The weather forecast for Saturday looks to be a balmy 40-some degrees, ideal conditions for us as we stand outdoors to ring bells, greet and thank people. In past years we’ve worked in temps as low as zero. But, dressed appropriately for conditions, we managed.


Me, ringing bells for the Salvation Army in the past. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


Ringing bells proves a joyful and humbling experience as we’ve witnessed gratitude, heard stories and observed parents teaching their children the joy of giving. I always come with a bag of Hershey kisses for the little ones, depositing a kiss in their tiny palms after they’ve pushed coins or bills into the kettle slot.

Eighty-eight percent of the donated monies stay right here in my county and go towards emergency services (gas vouchers, food, shelter, etc.), a heating program, “Shop with a Cop,” sending kids to a Salvation Army camp in northern Minnesota and a visiting program with the elderly in care facilities.


Two girls give to the Salvation Army during a past campaign. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


The need is great. Last year the Rice County Red Kettle Campaign fell short of its $50,000 goal with $43,000 raised. That meant cutting back on some services. But this year, especially with those $2,500 and $5,000 matches, I think we’re capable here in Rice County of reaching the $50,000 goal.

Please consider giving generously this Saturday and again on December 16 to push county-wide giving to those generous matches.


A friend rings bells at Walmart during a previous holiday season. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.


And consider, too, signing up to ring bells. Call (507) 334-0639 or email faribaultbellringer at gmail.com, northfieldbellringer at gmail.com or lonsdalebellringer at gmail.com depending on where you wish to ring in Rice County.

You have the power to help your neighbor in this season of giving.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


Happy to ring Salvation Army bells on a balmy Minnesota morning December 6, 2014

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:22 PM
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Gary and Barb work the 10 a.m. to noon bell-ringing shift at Walmart south.

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo of 2013 Salvation Army bell ringing.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE 25 degrees can make.

The temp felt downright balmy ringing bells for the Salvation Army outside the north entrance of the Faribault Walmart this morning.

A year ago, at the south entrance, my husband and I rang bells in temps that hovered around a bone-chilling zero degrees Fahrenheit. Numerous times we stepped inside to warm up.

But this morning the sun shone bright upon us during our 10 a.m. to noon shift. It was lovely. No need to head to the bathroom to thaw hands under the heat of a hand dryer. This was an orange shorts topped by a Green Bay Packers jacket kind of morning, per the attire of one Walmart customer.

In true typical Minnesota talk, numerous folks commented on the beautiful weather. We couldn’t have agreed more. Standing in the outdoors for two hours in 25 degree weather felt almost tropical compared to the bundled up with minimal skin exposed temps of a year ago.

We were happy to be there, no matter the weather.

This marks my second year of bell ringing. And, like last year, I used eye contact and a friendly greeting to welcome folks, whether they gave or not.

And so many gave—from the smallest tyke hoisted to the kettle by a parent to the elderly man shuffling across the parking lot to the woman waiting for a taxi to the family with five children who gave on their way in, and then out of, the store.

I appreciated the kind words of several who thanked us and held dear an elderly woman’s words, “God bless you.”

It touches me deeply when parents pause so their children can drop coins and bills into the kettle. We thanked those children by handing out kisses—chocolate candy kisses. And I thanked the parents, too, for teaching their children to give.

In this season of spending, I hope you will donate to a charity to help those in need. Who knows, some day that person in need may be you, or me.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling


My joyful experience ringing bells for the Salvation Army on a bitterly cold Minnesota day December 9, 2013

Filed under: Uncategorized — Audrey Kletscher Helbling @ 6:00 AM
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SNUGGED IN A FLANNEL SHIRT and jeans, layered under my husband’s insulated coveralls and sweatshirt, and with wool socks, insulated winter boots and mittens covering my extremities and a festive hat adding a holiday flair, I reported to my post at noon Saturday to ring bells for the Salvation Army.

Randy snapped this photo of me upon our return home from ringing bells. One donor suggested we receive "hazard pay" for ringing on such a bitterly cold day. There's no pay; this is a volunteer opportunity.

Randy snapped this photo of me upon our return home. One donor joked that we should receive “hazard pay” for ringing bells on such a bitterly cold day. This was a volunteer “job.”

The temperature hovered around zero degrees Fahrenheit (-18 Celsius) in Faribault as I tied on my red apron, secured a scarf around my neck (I would add a second later) and took over bell ringing duties from my friend Barb. My husband, Randy, replaced her husband, Gary.

The temperature at 11 a.m. Saturday in Faribault, just an hour before Randy and I began ringing bells.

The temperature at 11 a.m. Saturday in Faribault, just an hour before Randy and I began ringing bells.

For the next two hours, in bitter cold temperatures which challenged even the hardiest of life-long Minnesotans like us, we greeted visitors at the Walmart south entrance.

Now you might think I would never again want to ring bells given my fingers and toes and cheeks got uncomfortably cold. At one point, per friend and north Walmart bell ringer Virgil’s suggestion, I retreated to the women’s bathroom to warm my icy red fingers under the hand air dryer. Heat never felt so good.

Gary and Barb work the 10 a.m. to noon bell-ringing shift at Walmart south.

Gary and Barb work the 10 a.m. to noon bell-ringing shift at Walmart south.

I will ring bells again, though.

When my cheeks started hurting and flaming red, I added a second scarf.

When my cheeks started hurting and flaming red, I added a second scarf.

I will ring bells again because the temporary discomfort I experienced is nothing compared to the challenges faced by those who benefit from Salvation Army services. Funds help those in emergency situations cover gas, housing, medical and other expenses. Donations also finance the “Shop with a Cop” program assisting children in need.

Nearly 90 percent of the monies dropped into kettles in Rice County stay in the county. This year the county chapter hopes to raise $50,000. In 2012, nearly $40,000 were raised, which was not enough to meet local needs.

Gary and Barb welcomed a stranger's cups of coffee.

Gary and Barb, an hour into their two-hour shift, were getting cold, but still smiling.

To be a small part of the Salvation Army’s mission, by giving two hours of my time, proved humbling and rewarding. Friend Virgil rang for 1.50 shifts while Linda, another ringer from my church, Trinity Lutheran in Faribault, pulled a double shift. That’s four hours. Outside. In the bitter cold.

Two girls give to the Salvation Army on Gary and Barb's shift.

Two girls give to the Salvation Army on Gary and Barb’s shift.

I was especially moved by the young parents who are teaching their children the joy of giving. Several times I watched as youngsters barely tall enough to reach the kettle dropped coins into the slot, sometimes spilling the change onto the sidewalk. We rewarded 14 youngsters with candy canes for their generosity.

One particular boy, about nine, exuded extra energetic enthusiasm. “Have a good day!” he shouted to us after placing money in the kettle.

Moments like that are priceless as is the story one mother shared while her little boy put coins in the bucket. They had seen a Toys for Tots television ad, she said. He then wanted to donate a toy, if he could get one for himself, too. I thanked this mom for teaching her son about giving at such a young age.

Randy and I were also the recipients of gratitude. Numerous donors thanked us for ringing bells, especially on such a cold day. “Bless your heart,” one woman said. Those three words most assuredly warmed my heart.

And then, near the end of our two-hour shift, another woman exiting Walmart handed me two packs of chemical hand warmers to slip inside our mittens and gloves. I was incredibly moved by her thoughtfulness.

What a great mission as noted on the sign,

What a great mission as noted on the sign: “Sharing is caring…need knows no season…God bless you.”

In the previous shift, another stranger purchased coffee for Gary and Barb and doughnuts for Virgil and Linda. Again, such kindness.

When our shift ended, we handed our bells and aprons and hand warmers, and the remaining 22 candy canes reserved for kids, over to our friend Leann. She was ringing the Salvation Army bell with joyful enthusiasm as we walked away.

I learned later that Virgil retrieved his wife’s boots from his car for Leann, whose boots weren’t warm enough. Leann distributed 14 candy canes to giving children, just like us, then passed the remaining four treats to fourth-shift bell ringer, Dennis.

I asked Leann if she’d had any particularly memorable moments and she shared how a teen, who’d just purchased gifts and wrapping paper, paused to pull bills from his pocket and donate. Not only that, he told her how happy he was to give.

That, my friends, represents the true spirit of charitable giving.

© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling