Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Ringing bells for charity & bonus holiday events December 8, 2017

 

RINGING BELLS for the Salvation Army stretches beyond simply accepting donations for a charity that does good in my community. It’s also an opportunity to bring joy to someone needing something as basic as a friendly greeting and a warm smile.

When I ring, I make eye contact with everyone approaching me. Not because I want to guilt anyone into giving. Rather, I want to welcome them with a smile, a good morning/afternoon and, most often, a Merry Christmas. That’s my nature, to be friendly. Whether an individual can, or chooses to, give, remains their personal choice. I understand the finances of the senior citizen who apologized for not giving, citing limited Social Security income and mounting medical bills. He didn’t have to explain. Those who can and want to give, will.

 

Randy and I rang bells together from 8 a.m. – 10 a.m. Saturday, December 2, took a half hour break and then returned to ring bells solo at two locations for another two hours. A lack of bell ringers led us to pull a double shift. Donations on December 2 totaled $3,965 in Rice County, surpassing the $2,500 match by an anonymous donor. Of that county-wide total, $2,620 was dropped into red kettles in Faribault.

 

For the first time ever in my seasons of ringing bells, I watched as a woman emptied the bulging contents of her coin purse into the red kettle. Her gift meant as much as that of a 40-something guy who dropped a few coins in the slot and remarked that every coin counts. He’s right. From the $20 donation to the $1 bills and pennies shoved in by children, every gift holds value to help someone in need.

 

Two girls give to the Red Kettle Campaign during a past holiday season. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I am grateful for the generosity in the Faribault community ($2,620 on December 2) and especially for those young parents who parcel coins and bills into the hands of their little ones. When one of those children asked to ring the bell on Saturday, I obliged. That sparked an idea. Maybe next year I will hand the bell to every kid who donates and offer them a chance to ring for a moment. And I’ll continue with my tradition of handing out candy kisses to youth.

I will continue also to greet those I meet with friendliness, even if some react with unkindness, something I experienced for the first time this year. The meanness won’t deter me. I am determined to keep a positive attitude, to do the best I can as a volunteer, as a human being, to extend kindness to those I greet while stationed at the red kettle. If my smile can brighten one person’s day, then I am grateful.

FYI: If you are interested in volunteering with the Red Kettle Campaign in Rice County, call (507) 334-0639 or email faribaultbellringer at gmail.com, northfieldbellringer at gmail.com or lonsdalebellringer at gmail.com, depending on location. You can also sign up online at this link: http://www.signupgenius.com/go/4090f4dacab2faafd0-2017

Bell ringers are desperately needed as the local chapter strives to reach its goal of $50,000. As of Monday, donations totaled $10,478, according to Ed Little, co-chair of the local Red Kettle Campaign. Last Saturday in Rice County, an anonymous donor matched donations with a $2,500 gift. On December 15 and 16, an anonymous donor will once again match county donations, this time up to $5,000.

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LOOKING FOR SOMETHING to do in Faribault this weekend?

 

Skaters from Shattuck-St. Mary’s Figure Skating Center of Excellence presented a Christmas Spectacular on Ice in 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo. They’ll skate this Saturday during the Campus Christmas Walk.

 

The Faribault Woolen Mill hosts a Holiday Open House from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Saturday featuring gourmet goodies, give-aways, store specials and more. Bring a Toys for Tots donation and get a free gift.

Pop into the historic Farmer Seed and Nursery to view the many beautiful themed Christmas trees with ornaments available for purchase. The store opens at 8 a.m. Saturday, closes at 5 p.m.

 

In the Shumway Hall entry hall, carolers sing for Christmas Walk guests in 2016. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

On the east side of Faribault, Shattuck-St. Mary’s School opens its campus to the public for the annual Campus Christmas Walk. The Saturday event begins at noon with a free Figure Skating Holiday Show in the sports complex. Following that, from 1 – 3 p.m., enjoy hot chocolate and cookies and ornament making and cookie decorating in Morgan Refectory. Nearby, Santa and Mrs. Claus will be at The Inn from 1 – 4 p.m. Stop at Shumway Hall between 1 – 3 p.m. for a sleigh ride. And then end your campus visit by taking in the half hour Holiday Concert in the Chapel of the Good Shepherd beginning at 3 p.m.

 

One of the many creches from the collection of Kathleen Putrah now on display at the Paradise.

 

Pop into the Paradise Center for the Arts in Faribault’s historic downtown from 1 – 4 p.m. Saturday to shop at the Winter Farmer’s Market for locally-grown/raised produce/meats, baked goods and more. Also check out the work of local artists available for purchase in the PCA gift shop during the Holly Days Sale. Don’t miss the display of creches in the art gallery. And in the evening, take in “Coconuts and Mistletoe,” a holiday play performed by the Paradise Community Theatre beginning at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. In this comedy, Santa conspires with spies to save Christmas.

In between all those events, be sure to shop at the the many home-grown businesses in our community.

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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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

 

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.

IRRESISTIBLE CHOCOLATE CRAZY CAKE!

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.

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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.”

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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.”

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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

 

The generous gift of a St. Paul woman to a rural Minnesota food shelf January 6, 2012

TODAY I’M TREATING YOU to a gem of a story published yesterday in a weekly community newspaper, The Gaylord Hub.

It’s an inspiring and uplifting story of a St. Paul woman who purposely sought out a rural food shelf as the recipient of a Christmas gift. And a mighty generous one from someone with apparently no connection to Gaylord, a southern Minnesota Sibley County seat town of around 2,300.

Hub officer manager and bookkeeper Elizabeth Reishus shares the tale of generosity in her January 5 “The Word From High Avenue” column as shared with her by Yvonne O’Brien of Sibley County Food Share, Inc.

Writes Reishus:

A woman from St. Paul had called Second Harvest food bank to ask for a list of rural food shelves. Second Harvest was not able to give her that information, but did give her O’Brien’s phone number.

The woman then called O’Brien and asked questions about the food shelf. What percent of families served were minorities? Is the need higher in the summer? What kinds of resources does your food shelf have to rely on for donations?

O’Brien explained that about 40 percent of clients at the food shelf are people of a minority. The need for help increases in the summer when seasonal workers arrive to work at area farms and other agriculture-related jobs. She also explained that unlike bigger towns and cities, we do not have the big chain stores such as Wal-Mart, Target, Cub or Cash Wise that donate food. The Sibley County Food Shelf is maintained through the generosity of area people and some grant money, O’Brien explained.

The St. Paul woman said she would like to send a donation to the food shelf. O’Brien gave the woman the mailing address for donations and expected to receive a check for about $50. She was pleasantly surprised to find that the donation check was for 10 times that amount. The generous mystery woman gave $500 to the Sibley County Food Shelf.

How’s that for Minnesota Nice and for thinking beyond the metro?

Consider the effort this mystery woman took to find just the right place for her $500 donation. What motivated her to seek out a rural food shelf, to ask those specific questions about minorities, to give that much money to a single food shelf?

I’d never really thought, prior to reading Reishus’ column, how small-town food banks typically don’t receive food donations from chain stores, relying instead primarily on the generosity of locals.

So thank you to that woman from St. Paul for thinking beyond the metro area of the need in rural Minnesota and for blessing Sibley County Food Share with $500.

She offers us much food for thought.

FOR MORE INFORMATION about Sibley County Food Share, click here.

 

Help rebuild the parks in flood ravaged Hammond, Minnesota April 28, 2011

An aerial view of Hammond during the flash flood of September 2010. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.

SEVEN MONTHS AFTER the raging Zumbro River ravaged the small southeastern Minnesota community of Hammond in a flash flood, residents are still struggling to recover.

That recovery reaches beyond the rebuilding of homes and lives.

Hammond needs more, like help rebuilding its parks.

Hammond resident Tina Marlowe, who was the subject of a series of blog posts I published in March, was recently elected to the Hammond City Council. She’s making it her mission to rehabilitate the East End Park and Ball Field, the basketball court and the Children’s Park.

But Tina can’t do this alone. She’s counting on the generosity of others to donate monies, materials and manpower (womanpower) to the Hammond Park Flood Recovery Project.

First, though, consider what’s been lost. The merry-go-round in the Children’s Park was swept down river to Jarret and was substantially damaged. The ground cover in the park is gone. Picnic tables, grills, fire rings, garbage cans and more were washed away. FEMA will replace some items, but not all.

Hammond's riverside park was all but destroyed by the flood. Marks on the shelter roof show how high the water rose. A baseball field next to the shelter, with a fence around it, is covered by receding floodwaters. Jenny Hoffman took this photo at 10 a.m. on Saturday, September 25, 2010.

The bridge connecting east and west Hammond is barely visible during the flood, which also overtook the town's parks. Photo courtesy of Micheal Mann & Tina Marlowe.

Tina wants to not only rebuild Hammond’s parks, but she wants to improve them, make them more family-friendly, with updated equipment.

Here are some of her ideas: “I would love to put a Pirate Ship System down at the East End. This is a popular camping and gathering area and I thought it would be very symbolic for the kids.

I would also like to put in an outdoor fitness area up at the Children’s Park. These are becoming a very popular alternative to the gym and would serve the community well when you consider our location. What a great financial alternative for families in this area. We would include equipment for adults and the children so the entire family can come down to the park and get some great exercise outdoors—and what better scenery!”

Tina’s vision is a multi-step process that she says could take years to achieve. She has set goals and is determined to help her town of about 230 residents (pre-flood).

Right now she’s asking for cash donations and donations and/or reasonable offers of used playground equipment (like that offered on public surplus from churches and schools), ground cover (sand, wood chips or chipped rubber) and green-treated lumber for dug-outs.

Can you help? If you can, submit a comment with your contact information (which I won’t publish) and I’ll take it from there.

Or, you can call Tina directly at 507-753-2166.

Cash donations should be sent to:

City of Hammond

320 East Center Street

Hammond, MN. 55991

Along with your cash donation, please submit a letter stating that the funds are for the Hammond Park Flood Recovery Project. Include a return address so appropriate charitable giving tax information can be sent to you.

If you are a teacher or the leader of a children’s/youth group, or just a parent, perhaps you can take this project on and rally your kids to help the kids of Hammond.

If you own or work for a company that can provide playground equipment or other materials, considering donating to the cause.

If you are a carpenter capable of building a pirate ship, offer to build one.

If you’re a Boy Scout, student or other young (or older) person looking for a project, you can probably assist in some way. Ask. Offer to help.

I am convinced that Tina’s visions for Hammond’s parks, for her community, can become a reality. Likewise, I believe that all of this can happen within a much shorter time frame than Tina thinks. Let’s aim for this summer.

You can make that happen, for the children of Hammond.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Prom economics 101: Lessons in giving March 30, 2011

The 1984 formal I donated to the FHS NHS Prom Dress Drive .

SEVERAL WEEKS AGO my husband stuffed a 1984 lavender formal into the back seat of our car and delivered it to Faribault High School. (I was sick that day or I would have dropped off the old bridesmaid’s dress myself.)

He was donating my dress, which has hung in an upstairs closet for decades, to the FHS National Honor Society’s first-ever Prom Dress Drive.

Naturally, I couldn’t allow this event to pass without asking whether a local high school student will wear “my” dress to the April 30 FHS prom. I also wanted to know how the drive went.

Although several young women tried on my lavender formal and one in particular with sewing abilities considered changing it up, no one bought it, says NHS co-advisor and FHS English language arts instructor Rachael Hoffman.

However, Hoffman, who is also the FHS theater wardrobe director, says she’s keeping my cast-off for possible use in future FHS theatrical productions.

Of 80 – 85 donated dresses, about 15 were sold with prices ranging from $2 – $50 and averaging around $20. Donations included vintage to current fashionable dresses, a few with price tags still attached. Shoes and jewelry were also contributed.

Hoffman, while grateful for the quantity of dresses donated, was hoping for more shoppers. Yet her enthusiasm for the project and its purpose cannot be quelled.

I’ll let her share a story that nearly moved me to tears. “I was overjoyed to hear a student say that she wouldn’t have to order a dress to fit her size this year since she found one at our drive,” Hoffman writes in an e-mail. “You could see on her face that she felt pretty and I really felt that made the drive worth it.

I also think that some of the NHS students who worked at the drive with me got to put themselves in other students’ shoes for a moment. It was a valuable experience.”

Lessons like that can’t be taught in a classroom.

While the project was a fundraiser for the NHS (the group raised about $400), Hoffman says more importantly that it was a service to the students and the community during difficult economic times. “It was my personal hope that a student who could not afford a dress would come and buy one. We did, in fact, have a few students who showed up with this purpose. It was a wonderful reward.”

Lessons like that can’t be taught in a classroom.

Hoffman clearly understands her students. “As a teacher at FHS, I know that many of these young people work jobs not merely for themselves but to contribute to their families in these hard times, or to save for college,” this astute educator observes. “We really wanted to serve our community in this way. Prom is a special occasion and many families cannot afford ‘extras’ right now. We wanted to make this less of a stressor on normal working families and more of an event to look forward to for the students.”

No one left the Prom Dress Drive without a dress, if they wanted one, Hoffman says. Prices were negotiable and most donors told organizers to give away their dresses (if they could not sell them) to anyone who needed a formal.

Lessons like that in giving from the heart can’t be taught in a classroom.

Details on the front of a lovely formal that also hangs in my closet and which my eldest wore in a friend's wedding. It would make a lovely prom dress, but it wasn't mine to give. Maybe next year?

THE GIVING DIDN’T END in Faribault. Extra Prom Dress Drive formals which won’t be utilized locally were donated to Total Care Cleaners. The south metro business sells the dresses for $10 to any prom-goer who needs one. Total Care also gives away $10 in dry cleaning services for each donated dress.

“They were so appreciative of the donations and excited to give more students this option for a prom dress,” says Julie Petersen, a co-advisor for Faribault’s NHS and a FHS Spanish instructor. “The owner said that many of the girls he helps would not be able to go to prom if not for the dresses he gets donated.”

That economic reality extends nationwide. At donatemydress.org, a national network connecting local dress drive organizations across the country, you’ll find a state-by-state listing of groups sponsoring these dress projects. Scroll to Minnesota and you can link to five metro area formal dress drives—Ever After Gowns, Operation Glass Slipper and The Paperbag Princess—and the two businesses-based projects at Vista Images and Total Care Cleaners.

I expect there are other Minnesota dress drives not listed on this website.

At least one of the prom projects, South St. Paul-based The Paperbag Princess, also accepts suits. Some take accessories too. Ever After Gowns will even accept spa products and new makeup.

I commend groups like the FHS National Honor Society for undertaking a drive like this which offers affordable prom attire to young women. NHS members seem to have benefited from the project, in lessons learned, as much as the young women who found prom formals.

Now, if only the cost of attending the FHS prom—$175 per couple for the event to be held at a South Saint Paul night club—would be more affordable…

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

These Minnesota Girl Scouts are tough cookies March 6, 2011

I’VE HAD GIRL SCOUTS knock on my door to sell Girl Scout cookies.

I’ve had Girl Scouts approach me at church to sell cookies.

I’ve seen Girl Scouts selling cookies at the grocery store and at the mall.

But…, until this weekend I’d never seen Girl Scouts bundled in caps, coats, snowpants, mittens and boots selling Girl Scout cookies outside a Minnesota gas station as temperatures hovered around 30 degrees. And that’s without the windchill.

I wasn't sure what the group was selling until we got right up to the gas station. I was ready with my camera.

As my family drove through the small southern Minnesota town of Courtland around noon today, these Nicollet Girl Scouts and their moms were peddling cookies at the Shell station along U.S. Highway 14. FYI, Courtland lies west of Nicollet, which lies west of Mankato.

I have to give these girls and their moms credit for their devotion to the cause. I doubt I would have stood out there in brisk March winds selling sweet treats. These Girl Scouts are some tough cookies.

And, no, I’m ashamed to say that we did not stop. I snapped these images as we passed by. But, clearly, the Girl Scout in the second photo wanted me to stop.

Girls and their moms peddled Girl Scout cookies in Courtland.

After I uploaded the photos into my computer, I noticed the smaller sign on the box on the back of the pickup truck: “Buy cookies and donate them to our military troops!! We do the shipping for you!!” That would have been one more good reason to stop.

To the Nicollet Girl Scouts, I admire your patriotism and your determination. Clearly you’re not going to let a Minnesota winter keep you from reaching your goals.

Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling