Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

An unexpected package from Santa December 6, 2017

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WHEN A SMALL PACKAGE arrived in my mailbox on Tuesday with a Merry Christmas! From: Santa Faribault, MN 55021 return address, I had no clue what I would find therein.

But, oh, the sweetness of this surprise moved me to tears at the thoughtfulness of the mysterious Santa who clearly read my recent post, “Passing a love of books onto the next generation.” In that post I reference a favorite childhood storybook, Three Billy Goats Gruff, and my regret at not purchasing a copy spotted at a Pequot Lakes antique shop.

 

 

That reader took my post to heart and sent me a vintage copy of Three Billy Goats Gruff. See why I’m thrilled with this unexpected gift. This individual gifted me with a book that I hold dear.

 

 

Now, rereading this story as an adult, I like it even more:

I’m not afraid,” said Little Billy. And up onto the bridge he ran—trip-trippety-trip!

 

 

This fairy tale of three billy goats attempting to cross a bridge under which a mean troll lives inspires bravery. The trio outwits the troll and gets safely to the other side and a hillside of lush grass. The empowering message of strength and courage proves as applicable for children as for adults.

 

 

As to the identity of Santa, I have only a few clues—the name NANCY ANN OLSON stamped inside and that Faribault postmark and return address. I don’t know any Nancy Olsons. The giver could be someone other than an Olson. Or it could be Nancy. I have no idea.

But to you, dear anonymous Santa reader, please know that your gift of Three Billy Goats Gruff touched me deeply. I am grateful for your kindness, which truly exemplifies the spirit of giving. Thank you. And Merry Christmas!

© 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

 

Lul & her family need our help October 20, 2017

We each have the power to make a positive difference in the lives of others via our words, our actions, our gifts. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

MY DEAR READERS,

I know you to be kind, caring and compassionate. So I am asking, if you wish and are able, to help a family in my Minnesota community.

Lul Ahmed and her family need your assistance as the 13-year-old recovers from injuries sustained after she was struck by a Lincoln Navigator on the way to her bus stop Tuesday morning. As of Thursday afternoon, she remained in critical condition at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis.

As you might expect, the Ahmeds face financial challenges now with missed work, travel and other expenses.

I don’t know the family. But that doesn’t matter. They are in need and I can relate, in a small way, to their experience. Eleven years ago a car struck my then 12-year-old son as he crossed the street on the way to his bus stop. Unlike Lul, he received only minor injuries.

The Faribault Diversity Coalition, a remarkable group in my community fostering acceptance and working with local immigrants, is accepting donations of cash and gas or grocery cards for the Ahmeds.

Donations may be dropped off or mailed to:

 

Faribault Diversity Coalition
324 Central Avenue N.
Faribault, MN. 55021

 

Mark gifts for “Lul’s Family.”

I’d like to take this a step further and ask that you also include a get well or other card of support for the Faribault Middle School eighth grader and/or her family. I so appreciated encouraging words and cards after my son was struck in 2006. I expect the Ahmeds would feel the same.

Thank you, dear readers, for considering my request. We have the power, through gifts and words, to comfort, help and support a family, to show them compassion and kindness.

Audrey

 

© Copyright 2017 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Beyond simply a Nativity scene December 23, 2016

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AT FIRST GLANCE, this Nativity scene appears standard. You’ve got your Holy Family, the three wisemen, the shepherds and the animals all corralled inside a stable.

 

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But, if you look closer, you notice ears of corn placed before the animals on the bed of straw. I’ve never seen that before in a Nativity. Details matter. Details impress. Details make this particular Nativity, which for decades of Christmases has stood in my community of Faribault, memorable.

Why?

 

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To me, that corn symbolizes the basic human needs we each have for food, clothing and shelter. Most of us have those life necessities. Some don’t. I am grateful to the many loving and giving individuals, businesses, charities and organizations that this holiday season will gift others with food, clothing and, yes, even shelter. Thank you.

 

nativity-wisemen

 

Then there are needs that extend beyond the physical to emotional. We can help others by simply caring, by reaching out, by listening. I have friends who are grieving, friends who are ill, friends who have lost their jobs (including a family of seven), friends who are struggling with other difficulties. It’s tough sometimes to know what to say, how to best help. But if I remain silent, then I am doing nothing. So I encourage, ask questions, show I care simply by the time I take to show I care. Could I do more? Probably.

As hard as life is sometimes, there’s always help. There’s always hope. There’s always someone reaching inside their storehouses of grain to offer ears of corn.

 

nativity-holy-family

 

We are blessed. I am blessed.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Experiencing the spirit of Christmas at a community dinner in Faribault December 20, 2016

Despite temperatures in the double digits below zero, people braved the cold to attend the Community Christmas Dinner. Here a diner leaves the church.

Despite temperatures in the double digits below zero, people braved the cold to attend the Community Christmas Dinner. Here a diner, bundled against the frigid cold, leaves the church

OUTSIDE FOURTH AVENUE United Methodist Church, a 1990s Ford Fiesta with 300,000 plus miles idled in the bitter cold early Sunday afternoon. Indoors, brothers Tom and Joe, bellies full from a holiday meal of turkey and all the fixings, waited. They hoped their car would warm for the 15-mile ride back home to Owatonna in minus zero temps.

Volunteers plate a meal of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, meatballs and green beans for diners. Additionally, cranberries and Christmas Cake were on the menu.

Volunteers plate a meal of turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, stuffing, meatballs and green beans for diners. Additionally, cranberries and Christmas Cake were on the menu.

They’d driven here for the free Community Christmas Dinner served by volunteers from this Faribault congregation. Joe wondered aloud whether he’d need to eat later at an Owatonna church which serves a free meal each Sunday evening.

Stunning stained glass windows at the back of the sanctuary.

Stunning stained glass windows at the back of the sanctuary.

While the two waited, I encouraged them to step inside the sanctuary to view the beautiful stained glass windows. The brothers admired the art, Tom pointing to a smaller pane resembling one in his childhood home, the house that became his after their father’s passing. Soon, I bid them farewell, wishing them both a Merry Christmas.

Doesn't he look just like Saint Nick?

Doesn’t he look just like Saint Nick?

Back in the church basement hallway, I came face-to-face with Santa Claus. Not in his suit, but looking every bit the part with a full white beard and a twinkle in his eye. The guy (whose name I didn’t get because who asks Santa for his “real” name?) plays Santa occasionally—for his step-daughter’s special needs class. He clearly enjoys the opportunity to bring joy to these students.

Exiting the church after dinner.

Exiting the church after dinner.

Later, I observed an elderly woman climb the basement stairs, plastic bag in hand with meal left-overs inside. I watched as my husband held the door for her, stepped outside and helped her across the snow-packed sidewalk to her car.

Diners sat down to a holiday meal in the church basement.

Diners sit down to a holiday meal in the church basement.

In all three instances—in the conversations with brothers Tom and Joe, in the quick photo shoot of Santa, in the care Randy showed to the elderly woman, I experienced the spirit of Christmas. Gratitude and giving. Giving and gratitude.

This bulletin board, just inside the side entry to the church basement, proclaims holiday joy.

This bulletin board, just inside the side entry to the church basement, proclaims holiday joy.

To the many volunteers who prepare, serve and clean up after this holiday community meal, thank you. You provide more than food for the body. On this Sunday, in your church basement, you blessed me and others with Christmas joy. In conversations. In smiles. In helping hands. What a gift.

BONUS PHOTOS:

Volunteers served Christmas Cake (aka Poke Cake) and brought left-overs to the Cake Room following the meal.

Volunteers serve Christmas Cake (aka Poke Cake) and return left-overs to the Cake Room following the meal.

Slices of Christmas cake are plated and then delivered to diners on vintage trays.

Slices of Christmas cake are plated and then delivered to diners on vintage trays.

Baby Whitney with her Christmas Cake.

Baby Whitney enjoys Christmas Cake.

Holiday banners hang from basement walls.

Holiday banners add a festive flair to basement walls.

Signs posted throughout the basement welcome guests to Christmas worship services.

Signs posted throughout the basement welcome guests to Christmas worship services.

Volunteers can reach into this tub for aprons.

Volunteers can reach into this tub for aprons.

Behind the scenes, volunteers are busy washing dishes.

Behind the scenes, volunteers are busy washing dishes.

Each table is decorated with unique and festive holiday decor.

Each table is decorated with unique and festive holiday decor.

This is the view walking into the dining hall. Diners can leave a free will offering, a portion of which goes to Rice County charities.

This is the view walking into the dining hall. Diners can leave a free will offering in the basket, a portion of which goes to Rice County charities.

Christmas decorations grace a shelving unit.

Christmas decorations grace a shelving unit.

Back in the kitchen, the crew continues to work.

Back in the kitchen, the crew continues to work.

After serving ended, I spotted this food list on a table.

After serving ended, I spotted this food list on a table.

Washing tables after 210 meals were served.

Washing tables after 210 meals were served.

© 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

 

Bell-ringing moments bring smiles & gratitude December 3, 2016

Me, ringing bells for the Salvation Army on Saturday morning in Faribault. Photo by Randy Helbling.

Me, ringing bells for the Salvation Army on Saturday morning in Faribault. Photo by Randy Helbling.

“WE’LL GET YOU on the way out,” he said, his smile wide.

I admit to skepticism. But, as promised, the pre-teen stopped after exiting Walmart Saturday morning to drop money into the Salvation Army’s signature red donation bucket.

“You’re a man true to your word,” I acknowledged, thanking him for his gift.

 

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Likewise, I thanked many others—from kids to seniors—who donated money during my two-hour shift of ringing bells with my husband. I greeted every customer with a smile and wishes for a good morning and a Merry Christmas. Some looked me in the eye and repeated the greetings. Others hurried past, heads down. Whether they could give or not, I wanted them to feel my warm holiday welcome.

 

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Many made me smile. Like the cool teens dressed all in black. They pushed coins into the slotted bucket then danced across the parking lot. I never expected them to give. Just goes to show.

Or the girls who gave as they entered Walmart and again on the way out. “We got two kisses,” one said to the other as they walked away. She was referencing the Hershey kisses I give to kids who give. It adds to the fun—to tell kids, “Wait a minute, I have something for you—a kiss.” And then I reach inside the pocket of the red Salvation Army apron and deposit a foil-wrapped kiss in their palms. And they smile like I’ve just handed them the most precious gift.

 

Randy ringing bells.

Randy ringing bells.

My husband’s favorite moment came at my expense when a man stopped, pointed upward and asked, “What’s that up in the sky?” I followed his sight line…to the sun. And then I laughed, getting the joke. And he laughed. And Randy laughed. We haven’t seen the sun through grey clouds in days.

But in that moment, the sun shone like a blessing upon us and our morning of volunteering for the Salvation Army Red Kettle Campaign.

© Copyright 2016 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