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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Rice County still needs volunteers to help with storm clean-up October 17, 2018

Several days ago I photographed this home destroyed September 20 by an EF-2 tornado in Morristown. This small town was the hardest hit in a massive storm system that spawned 16 tornadoes and straight line winds in southern Minnesota. An EF-2 has wind speeds of 120 – 130 mph.

 

FOUR WEEKS AFTER MULTIPLE TORNADOES and severe storms ravaged Rice County, folks in my area still need assistance.

 

In the same Morristown neighborhood.

 

So, for the third time, Rice County Emergency Management is coordinating volunteer clean-up efforts. We need your help. This Saturday, October 20, exactly a month after those storms.

 

More damage in the same block in Morristown.

 

Although I’ve not joined these organized efforts, I assisted a friend after three trees fell in her yard, one landing on her house. Randy and I also checked on and helped an elderly neighbor. And then we got around to removing two limbs from our yard, with the help of a friend and his chainsaw.

 

More tornado damage in Morristown.

 

Do you see a word repeating in this post? That would be help. After a devastating storm like this, help is essential.

 

In a nearby neighborhood in Morristown, roof damage.

 

If you can help, register beginning at 7:30 a.m. Saturday for a two or four-hour shift at volunteer headquarters, the 4-H building at the Rice County Fairgrounds on the north side of Faribault. It seems fitting that the 4-H building serves as the coordination center. Part of the 4-H motto includes pledging hands to larger service.

 

Twisted trees, the telltale signs of a tornado, these near the water tower in Morristown.

 

Lots of hands are needed to remove trees and brush, pick up debris from farm fields and more.

 

This damaged Camaro is parked in the Morristown neighborhood hard hit by a September 20 tornado.

 

We’re only an hour from Minneapolis along Interstate 35. We’d welcome you from the metro to help us, your neighbors to the south. We’d welcome you from Iowa to help your neighbors to the north. We’d welcome anyone with the ability to help.

 

In the countryside near Morristown.

 

As I’ve been out and about the county during the weeks since the storms, I’ve noted the destruction and all of the work yet to be done. It’s heartbreaking really to see homes destroyed, farm buildings demolished, chunks of metal strewn across fields, and endless uprooted and damaged trees (including in my neighborhood).

Help is definitely needed. But so is the hope that help brings.

I have friends waiting for claims adjusters, contractor estimates and insurance payments. They’re waiting for contractors to replace roofs, siding, rafters, a garage door, fences… It’s stressful and, sometimes, overwhelming. They, and so many others, need to know someone, anyone, cares. And care comes in two ways, via help and hope.

FYI: Click here to read more detailed information about this Saturday’s volunteer clean-up efforts.

© Copyright 2018 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

 

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.

 

ringing-bells-overview-at-walmart

 

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.

 

ringing-bells-sign

 

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

 

In which I experience the joy of serving on Thanksgiving November 25, 2016

I KNEW IF I STAYED HOME Thanksgiving morning in to early afternoon, melancholy would seep in. No matter how hard I tried. This would be my first Thanksgiving without any of my grown children home to celebrate. So I needed to divert my thoughts from missing them.

The setting for Faribault's Community Thanksgiving Dinner.

The setting for Faribault’s Community Thanksgiving Dinner, which began 30 years ago in a restaurant.

I didn’t even think. I knew exactly where I would go, what I would do. And that was to head to the Faribault American Legion and volunteer, with my husband, at the Community Thanksgiving Dinner. That volunteerism, that mingling with other volunteers and guests, was, I will selfishly admit, about helping me as much as helping others. It worked.

Bagged lunches await pick up by guests and by those delivering meals to homes.

Bagged lunches await pick up by guests and by those delivering meals to homes.

When you take the focus off your sadness, happiness shines. I felt myself smiling as we delivered 12 meals to five homes, each recipient grateful for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner and bagged left-overs of a turkey sandwich and apple.

Randy shuffles meals and bags around as we prepare to deliver them.

Randy shuffles meals and bags around as we prepare to deliver them.

From a mobile home to a condo to an apartment to single family homes, we brought not only food, but also holiday happiness: To the woman recovering from pneumonia with her husband in the hospital. To the woman whose meal I left on the kitchen counter per her instructions to also take the $5 (given to the Faribault Foundation) lying near the cracked open exterior side door. To the woman who answered the door in her bathrobe. To the woman who waited outside her apartment building for us to arrive. All welcomed us with gracious gratitude.

A child's artwork on a placemat reminds diners of life's many blessings.

A child’s artwork on a placemat reminds diners to be thankful.

Those blessings of giving and receiving exude the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Hundreds of pounds of turkey are baked along with hundreds of pounds of potatoes peeled...

Hundreds of pounds of turkey are baked along with hundreds of pounds of potatoes peeled… (This image for illustration purposes only and not taken at the community dinner.)

Back at the Legion, Randy and I paused to eat. Volunteers expected to plate and package 1,200 meals in three hours. From conversations I overheard and my observation that the kitchen ran out of whole turkey (and resorted to pressed/processed turkey), guests exceeded the anticipated number.

All tables are festively decorated and all guests served at their tables.

All tables are festively decorated and all guests served at their tables. Children contribute their art.

I’ve often wondered who attends the Community Thanksgiving Dinner, meant for anyone no matter their financial means, their age, their anything. Seated at our dinner table were a retired long-time Faribault Woolen Mill employee dining with his 20-something grandson, who had to work later in the day at Target; a retired hospital employee and Vietnam War vet with nowhere to go for dinner; and a couple, like us, without children at home. I also spotted a neighbor, church friends (both dining and volunteering) and others I know from the community.

Kids decorate placemats.

Kids decorate placemats.

I was particularly impressed by the number of kids helping. I applaud parents who are teaching their children at such a young age the joy of serving others. Watching a girl, perhaps six, carry a plate of turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, corn, a dinner roll and cranberries to a diner, is one of those moments that impresses hope for the future.

Volunteers dish up meals.

Volunteers dish up meals for take-out and to serve to diners.

Likewise, observing others my age and older scurrying to serve the sit-down meals reaffirms that goodness exists.

Randy and I filled in where needed. I primarily poured milk while he greeted, served and more.

Some three hours after we arrived at the Legion, Randy and I left. As we exited the parking lot, I was already calling our 22-year-old son in Boston, home alone, but planning a Thanksgiving dinner for Saturday with friends. I called the daughter in northeastern Wisconsin, catching her as she returned from the grocery store with her husband before going to the home of friends for dinner. I texted our eldest, in California with her in-laws. She also texted photos of her family, including our granddaughter. It helped to hear their voices, to be able to tell them, “I love you.”

Preparing for diners by plating pumpkin pie.

Preparing for diners by plating pumpkin pie.

The reality of life is that we cannot always be with those we love most. On those holidays, we need to stretch beyond ourselves and our feelings. On this Thanksgiving, that made all the difference for me.

FYI: Later in the afternoon, Randy and I joined our nephew and his family, along with our niece-in-law’s family, for a Thanksgiving dinner. We were grateful for their inclusion of us. I laughed and smiled and ate more turkey, so thankful for the blessings of the day and of life.

I took all of these photos with my smartphone rather than my DSLR, limiting my photography so I could focus on volunteering.

© Copyright 2016 Audrey Kletscher Helbling