MY OLDEST DAUGHTER TEXTED on Wednesday asking for a cookie recipe. The kids, she said, would want to leave a treat for Santa.
Oh, to be young again and believe in an overweight bearded man in a red suit bearing gifts on Christmas. Just to clarify, the 6 ½-year-old granddaughter is questioning Santa’s validity. But Izzy hasn’t vocalized her suspicions to her younger brother, Isaac. I expect she wants to share her doubts, yet is hesitating lest she’s wrong. Who wants to risk Santa not leaving gifts?
There’s something to be said for believing in Santa, no matter your age. Or maybe, more accurately, there’s something to be said for the magic that accompanies believing. So I suppose, in reality, I believe in Santa still.
I believe in the joy he brings. The smiles. The goodness. The laughter. The reminder that, even in difficult times, Santa navigates around life’s obstacles through a dark sky, Rudolph’s nose lighting the way. That’s such a strong visual, one we’ve seen illustrated many times in children’s picture books.
This time of year, so many individuals, organizations, churches and more bring joy. They are, like Santa, the bearers of gifts. Toys, food, clothing, gift cards… They become the magic. But it isn’t all about the tangible “things,” although those are decidedly needed and appreciated. It’s also about what giving means to the recipient. It means someone understands, someone cares, someone sees.
Santa is not fictional. He’s real, in a magical sort of way that is timeless and believable, even to the grandma of a suspicious first grader.
WHENEVER I FEEL DISCOURAGED by disparaging attitudes in my community, I need only shift my focus to change my mindset. So many people in Faribault are doing really good things to help each other in a time when individuals and families are struggling. Never is that more evident than during the holiday season.
One example of community generosity is currently displayed at Central Park, where 47 decorated Christmas trees line the sidewalk along Second Avenue. These are more than simply trees adding a festive flair to Faribault. These are trees purchased and decorated by non-profits, businesses, service organizations and more through the city Parks and Recreation Department’s Adopt a Tree Program.
The city works with local non-profit St. Vincent de Paul, just across the street from the park, to give the trees to families in need. This Thursday, December 8, the trees come down for distribution to those selected to receive this bit of holiday cheer.
As I view it, these donated trees stretch beyond decorating homes that would otherwise be without Christmas trees. These trees are about giving hope. These trees are about showing care, compassion and love. Both donors and recipients likely experience those feelings. A sense of community connection flourishes.
In these assuredly tough economic and divisive times, we need, more than ever, to be there for one another. To see the humanity in each other, to respect one another, to support and care for one another. To connect as a community.
Only several years into Adopt a Tree, the program is growing with 15 more trees than in 2021. Such generosity of spirit touches me, shows me that the Faribault community cares. For that I feel grateful.
AS THE SCENT OF ROASTING TURKEY fills the house, as tables are set, as friends and family gather, may thankfulness center your thoughts this Thanksgiving Day.
Even in these days of high inflation, political divisiveness and too many people sick with the flu, COVID and RSV, there is reason to pause and feel grateful. Our medical professionals continue to care for patients in overcrowded emergency rooms and hospitals. Post election, hope rises that politicians can work together. And for those who are struggling, individuals and organizations are stepping up to help.
In my community, I see so much compassion and care for others, which truly causes my spirit to fill with gratitude. Last Saturday while exiting a local grocery store, I dropped several bills into the Salvation Army red kettle and thanked the ringers for ringing. What I got in return—bless you—was more than I gave. Later that day at a church boutique, my friend Joy sold holiday porch pots, side tables and benches she crafted from recycled wood, and more with all proceeds going to the Salvation Army.
Today a crew of volunteers will serve a free Faribault CommUnity Thanksgiving Dinner, open to anyone from 11 am – 2 pm at the Faribault Eagles Club. There’s in-person dining, curbside pick-up and delivery (if needed). I’ve delivered those meals in the past and, again, was blessed beyond measure by the grateful words of the recipients. (Monetary donations are accepted for the Faribault Foundation, with a mission of “enriching the quality of life for the Faribault community.)
Every Tuesday evening, volunteers also serve a free dinner at the Community Cafe, hosted at the Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour. The non-profit’s mission is “Build Community, One Meal at a Time.”
As more and more people struggle to afford food, to put food on the table, my community provides. Through church food shelves. At St. Vincent De Paul, which shares “faith, food and free resources” with a primary concern of charity and justice. At the Community Action Center of Faribault, a free food market and resource center.
HOPE Center provides Healing, Outreach, Prevention and Education to survivors of violence (and their families) in Rice County. I am grateful to the team that staffs HOPE Center, bringing hope and healing. To witness such compassion warms my heart.
The warmth of compassion also plays out at the Faribault Mill, founded in 1865 as a woolen mill and internationally-known for its quality woolen blankets and other products. For every bed blanket sold, the mill is donating one high quality blanket to nonprofits serving homeless youth in cities across the country. The “Spread the Warmth” initiative has already partnered with 14 nonprofits coast-to-coast, north to south, from Boston to San Francisco, from Minneapolis to Dallas.
There is reason to feel grateful for all of these efforts, to see just how much love, care and compassion exist. I feel heartened, thankful, uplifted by the real ways in which individuals, businesses, faith communities, nonprofits and more strive to care for others. Hope rises.
TELL ME: What are you especially thankful for this Thanksgiving in your community?
But this nonprofit has spread its wings to make life better for the children of Ukraine. How? By raising monies through online auctions of owl art with proceeds benefiting United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) to help Ukrainian children.
Three online auctions of owl art earlier this year, sales of gift card sets and donations have already raised $225,000 for UNICEF relief in Ukraine. Bids reached as high as $8,005 for a single piece of original artwork. A fifth auction is set for August 10-14. Total fundraising goal is $400,000.
I’m beyond impressed by the ambition of the Owl Center and by the generosity of bidders. And I’m beyond impressed by the talent of these Ukrainian artists who range from preschool age to 18-years-old.
The Center plans to also re-offer sets of 20 blank owl art greeting cards during the International Owl Awareness Day weekend August 5-8. Those must be purchased in-person at the center with any remaining card sets then sold in the Center’s online store.
As the war in Ukraine continues, media coverage has lessened, replaced by other top news stories. But that doesn’t diminish the pain, the suffering, the fear, the terror, the hunger, the displacement, the destruction, the death…that remain very real for the people of Ukraine. I am thankful that the International Owl Center has partnered with the Houston Area Community Foundation to aid Ukrainian kids. Via these fundraisers, this Minnesota community of 1,040 is offering help, and hope.
TIS THE SEASON for outdoor local summer events and gatherings that feature music and/or food.
Christ Lutheran Church, the church on the hill along State Highway 60 on the east side of Faribault, kicks off its Holy Smoke Pizza Ministry this Wednesday, June 8, from 5-8:30 pm. If you live in the Faribault area, this is a must-attend event for the homemade pizza and the music.
I’ve attended numerous times. The pizza, made in an outdoor oven, is savory/delicious/just darned good. I’d recommend the BBQ brisket. Be prepared to wait. And also come prepared with lawn chairs or blankets as picnic table seating is limited.
While the pizza is certainly a draw, so is the music. This week Relativity, a group featuring a vocalist and instrumentalists on guitar, mandolin and fiddle, performs current top 40 songs to classic and folk rock. The trio includes fiddler/mandolin player Mike Hildebrandt, an inductee into the Minnesota Rock & Country Music Hall of Fame.
Holy Smoke is not just about music and pizza and giving back to the community. It’s also about gathering with others in a beautiful backyard type setting on a summer evening. It’s a good time to catch up with friends and/or make new friends. Note, though, that anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or who has been in contact with anyone who has tested positive in the past 14 days and is not fully-vaccinated should NOT attend. I am thankful for that safety measure. The first person to die of complications related to COVID-19 in my county of Rice was the Rev. Craig Breimhorst, retired pastor of Christ Lutheran Church. He died in April 2020 after returning from a trip to the Holy Land.
If you can’t make this week’s Holy Smoke, two other Wednesday concert-pizza nights will be held. On July 13, Todd Finney performs and on August 10, Old Country Brothers.
There’s another concert in the area at 7 pm on Wednesday, June 8, that is also worth your consideration. St. John’s United Church of Christ Wheeling Township (near Nerstrand Big Woods State Park) is hosting a summer evening of outdoor worship featuring the music ministry of 29:11 International Exchange. That group is based in Minnesota and South Africa. Its mission is to “facilitate hope and reconciliation through music, cross-cultural relationships and individual artist development…by recognizing that each of us is worthy of understanding and love, we can bridge the ideological, racial and socio-economic gaps that divide us and live together as citizens of the world.” Again, bring lawn chairs or blankets.
I feel grateful to both St. John’s and Christ Lutheran for hosting these outdoor community-focused summer events which benefit attendees and beyond.
TELL ME: Is there a similar event in your community that you try to attend each summer?
WICKED WINDS SWEEPING from the northwest into Faribault Sunday afternoon into Monday brought more than cold temps. The strong winds also toppled Christmas trees displayed in Central Park.
Randy and I headed out to view the Holiday Tree Display, a project of the City of Faribault Parks and Recreation Department, after the Vikings game. When we pulled up, we observed numerous trees lying on the ground, ornaments littering the lawn, tree toppers askew.
Several tree sponsors arrived to deal with the unexpected damage. A Wunderlich family member who, along with his sister set up a tree honoring loved ones and community members who died of cancer, headed across the street to Ace Hardware for sandbags. I noticed sandbags anchoring several trees. And when two women came to upright their trees, Randy and I convinced them to let the trees lie given the prevailing winds.
When Randy drove by the holiday display Monday morning on his way to work, he reported more trees down with only perhaps 10 of the 34 still standing. Winds still blew, with the temp dipping into the single digits. It feels a lot like winter now. No snow here, though. But central and northern Minnesota got enough to create travel issues and necessitate late school starts.
Ah, Minnesota. I expect next year precautions will be taken to keep those holiday trees standing straight.
This is only the second year of a project which spreads Christmas joy. All trees are sponsored and decorated by local businesses, organizations, civic groups, etc., and then donated to families/individuals without a tree. It’s a great idea, one which garnered the 2020 Minnesota Recreation and Park Association Award of Excellence for Faribault Parks and Rec.
I feel thankful to live in a community of generosity.
None of us ever knows when strong winds will sweep into our lives and knock us down. None of us ever knows when we will need the kindness of others to uplift us, to help us stand, to support us. To give us hope. There is something to be learned from wicked winter winds. We need one another, even if sometimes we think we don’t.
FYI: The trees have now been placed upright and staked, and will be displayed until December 10.
I’m excited to view/hear this concert featuring a wide range of talented local musicians. Like the Benson Family Singers, Fourth Avenue Four Barbershop Quartet, Gail Kaderlik, Cindy Glende, Alberto Arriaza and many others.
The purpose of the concert, according to lead organizer the Rev. Greg Ciesluk of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, is to lift our spirits and to help those in need. “Concert goers” are encouraged to donate to the Salvation Army via:
1) Giving at Salvation Army red kettles.
2) Mailing checks to: Salvation Army of Rice County, 617 3rd Ave. N.W., Faribault, MN. 55021
Enjoy, dear readers. I am honored to be part of this event via holiday photos I’ve taken in Faribault and which are incorporated into the concert. Thank you to all who contributed to this event. It takes a team to make this happen. What a wonderful community of caring people who have come together to uplift us.
In a typical year, I would sing Advent and Christmas hymns with my faith family in church. But now, during COVID-19, I’m watching services online. I feel grateful for this technology. But it’s not the same. I miss the in-person connection, the simply being there.
Greg Ciesluk, pastor of Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church, was experiencing a similar feeling of loss. A self-proclaimed “music person” actively involved in the Faribault community, he considered how he could restore some Christmas joy. Cancellation of the Faribault High School choir’s annual performance—an 81-year tradition—at the local Rotary Club’s Christmas meal prompted Ciesluk to think creatively. (He’s a Rotary member.) The result: An hour-long virtual Christmas concert featuring local musicians.
“Christmas in Faribault 2020” (type that into your search engine) debuts on YouTube at 7 pm Saturday, December 19. The concert can also be viewed on Faribault Community Television.
Ciesluk promises a wonderful, uplifting experience in a “joyful, soulful and invigorating” concert.
From well-known local musicians like Doug Madow and Dr. Michael Hildebrandt to Beau Chant to a children’s group from Christ Lutheran Church and many more, including performances by Ciesluk, the virtual concert features pre-recorded songs submitted to Fox Video Productions for production.
But a desire to uplift the community in this Christmas of canceled concerts isn’t the sole goal behind those putting together this virtual musical event. Organizers are encouraging viewers to donate to the Salvation Army as “a way to show God’s compassion and concern for those in need,” says Ciesluk. All donations stay in Rice County.
Give directly at red kettle donation sites in the county; via checks mailed to the Salvation Army of Rice County, 617 3rd Ave. N.W., Faribault, MN. 55021; or through an online link that will be included in the video. The concert will feature a spot from the Salvation Army. Sheriff Troy Dunn, who heads the county’s Salvation Army outreach, is serving as emcee.
Randy and I have, for many years, rung bells for the Salvation Army. It’s been a joyful, humbling experience. But this holiday season, because of COVID-19, we decided given our high risk age status, not to volunteer. Yet, I am helping in another way. Ciesluk asked if he could incorporate holiday/Christmas photos I’ve taken around Faribault through the years into “Christmas in Faribault 2020.” I agreed. Like him and his team of organizers and musicians, I am happy to help bring joy to others during an especially challenging year.
TOO OFTEN THESE DAYS, I feel discouraged by all the discord in our country, by the selfishness and lack of care for others.
But then I discover something that lifts my spirits and reaffirms my belief in our goodness, our ability to help one another, to think beyond ourselves and our needs to those of the people around us.
This is the story of such a discovery. Of goodness and kindness and care for those we call our family, neighbors, friends. Or strangers. And this I found in Zumbrota, a small town about a 45-minute drive east of Faribault.
On a recent Sunday afternoon drive through the Zumbro River Valley of southeastern Minnesota, Randy and I stopped in Zumbrota for a picnic lunch, or what was supposed to be a picnic lunch. The weather, only in the 30s and blustery, proved too cold for outdoor dining. We opted to eat in the van while parked outside the public library.
Directly in our line of vision stood a sculpture of children near a structure, which I soon determined to be an artistic interpretation of an historic covered bridge on the other side of the library. I planned, upon finishing my sandwich, grapes and protein bar, to photograph the art and then we would be on our way.
On any other day, Randy and I would walk across that aged bridge to the park, explore a bit while stretching our legs. But the weather was just too darned cold. I hurried to photograph the sculpture as my fingers numbed.
Once done, I walked back toward the van, only to notice a Little Free Library next to the public library. I found that odd.
As I drew closer, I found I was mistaken. This was not a LFL but rather a Community Cupboard—a source of food and hygiene products. Free for the taking.
The message thereon invites those opening the door of this small structure, designed like the nearby covered bridge, to TAKE WHAT YOU NEED, LEAVE WHAT YOU CAN. Baby formula. Snacks. Dried legumes. I didn’t poke around to see all of the contents.
Rather, as I photographed the Community Cupboard, I felt a sense of gratitude for this “Sharing Our Saviour” food outreach of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church. I thought of the many times Jesus fed the hungry of body and of soul. And how thankful I am that churches and nonprofits and so many others help people in more ways than we will ever know. This lifts my spirits.
TELL ME: How do you or your community or church (or whatever) help individuals and families in need? I’d like to hear more uplifting stories.
Photographed just days ago outside The Nook and Cranny, Faribault.
OUTSIDE THE FORMER St. Lawrence Church, where parishioners once ascended steps to front doors opening under a banner WELCOME sign, those in need find a warm welcome.
A handwritten sign invites them to take whatever they wish to stay warm. A hat. A scarf. Mittens. The winter neck, head and hand wear drapes benches and hangs clipped to clothesline rope.
A Little Free Library, left, also sits outside The Nook and Granny gift shop.
But this is much more than a give-away by The Nook and Cranny, the boutique/gift shop/craft center housed inside the former church. I view this as an act of kindness, care and compassion extended to my community.
Faribault is not a city of wealth. Rather, we are a primarily blue collar community, home to many immigrants, a place where people work hard and often struggle to make ends meet. But we are also a generous community—supportive of fundraisers, volunteering, giving to charities, helping our neighbors…
And here, in the deep of winter, one business located along one of Faribault’s busiest streets at 725 Second Avenue Northwest, reaches out, warming heads, hands and hearts. I can’t help but think that St. Lawrence, the patron saint of the poor, would be pleased.