Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Let’s be there for one another December 6, 2018

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Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

WHAT ARE YOU DOING for others this holiday season? How are you connecting, offering support, comfort and care, and bringing joy and hope to others? I’m talking outside your immediate circle of family and friends.

Today, more than ever, we need to care about one another in a world that seems increasingly self-centered, mean and hostile.

We have the power individually and collectively to make a difference, to counter the negativity, to do something good. Not for ourselves. But for others. Especially during the holiday season.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

For example, each December for the past several, I’ve rung bells for the Salvation Army. It’s uncomfortable standing outside in the biting cold of a Minnesota winter. But it’s only for two hours and I can step inside Walmart to warm my hands under the bathroom hand dryer when my fingers feel numb. This is not about my comfort, though. Rather this is about greeting people with warmth and accepting donations from those wanting to help others.

And there are plenty of generous souls. This year a woman stopped, pushed coins into the kettle slot and told me she knew what it was like to go through rough times. And then there was the young mom who parceled coins into her toddler son’s hand to drop into the kettle. Except he returned each coin to her and then watched her drop the pennies, the quarters, the…into the bucket. What a valuable lesson she taught him. I especially appreciate those young parents who model giving.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

Not everyone can give financially. I get that. But we can give of our time. On Sunday afternoon my bible study group gathered to wrap gifts as part of our Angel Tree Project. We’ve done this for years, ending our wrapping marathon with a soups and salads dinner together. I am always amazed at the generosity of people who pull some 75 paper angels from a Christmas tree at our church and then purchase gifts for those less fortunate. One young boy asked for a tacklebox (he’s getting it). I found that especially refreshing in a time when most kids would rather stay indoors with their tech toys. Typically I don’t like wrapping presents. But doing this with friends is fun and fosters a sense of togetherness in a shared mission.

I also helped pack boxes for our military men and women overseas and filled bags for local veterans. As the daughter of a Korean War veteran, I can only imagine how much my dad would have appreciated such a gift. Through that volunteerism I indirectly honored my dad.

 

Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo 2018.

 

There are endless ways we can help one another. It doesn’t take much effort to find a cause that fits your interests and your talents. Or simply reach out on your own to uplift someone. Send a card. Make a phone call. Give a hug. Mentor a child. Open a door. Smile.

It’s within our power to make this world a better place, to show we really do care about others through our positive words and actions.

TELL ME: How do you help others?

© Copyright 2018 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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Making donating blood just a little more personal February 8, 2018

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My blood donation card in my wallet. Minnesota Prairie Roots file photo.

 

I GIVE BLOOD to the American Red Cross whenever I can. Like last evening, at the Eagles Club in Faribault. I’m not paid. I just do it because it’s the right thing to do. Because blood transfusions saved my mom’s life years ago. Because I am healthy and able and I can help. My rare blood type, AB+, is always in high demand.

Admittedly I was a late-comer to this, having watched my husband donate blood for years before deciding I could do this, too. Now we go together, race each other in how long it will take to fill our blood collection bags. I usually win. We have a little fun.

Beyond the physical act of donating, I’ve never thought about what happens to my blood once it leaves Faribault. Now I know thanks to the Red Cross. The past two times I’ve given, I’ve received follow-up emails telling me specifically where my blood went. My mid-December donation went to Fairview Lakes Medical Center in Wyoming, Minnesota. Months earlier, my blood helped a patient at Douglas County Hospital in Alexandria, Minnesota.

It’s a brilliant idea, this sharing of location information. Although I will never know the name of the person whose life I may have helped save, I now feel a personal component to giving blood. And anytime that happens, we grow closer as humans in a world that, although deeply technologically connected, often feels more distant and uncaring than ever.

© Copyright 2018 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

 

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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nativity-front-of

 

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.

 

nativity-sheep-donkey

 

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?

 

nativity-close-up-front-of

 

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