By Starrla Cray
COKATO, DASSEL, MN “God is good. There are still good people out there.”
Chad Anderson of Cokato posted these words on Facebook Dec. 1, after he was given some unexpected hope for the Christmas season.
Money has been tight in his family lately, due to moving and a job layoff, and he wasn’t sure if he’d be able to afford gifts for his two children this year. He went to Love INC in Delano, but was told the organization doesn’t currently serve Cokato.
“Then, when I was leaving, a lady approached me and asked if she could adopt our kids for Christmas, to buy them gifts,” Anderson said. “I was in total shock.”
Since then, Anderson said three more women have offered to help in any way they could.
“It is such an awesome community,” he noted. “I am greatly blessed to be calling Cokato our forever home.”
Cokato resident Stacy Horsch and her family can relate. She and her husband have four children who require special care, with issues such as autism, anxiety, cognitive/developmental delays, and a rare epileptic syndrome.
Horsch has a master’s degree, but is a stay-at-home mom due to frequent medical appointments for her children.
“One of the hardest things we, as parents, have to deal with is to know that we cannot afford to give our children presents on holidays or even their birthdays,” she said. “Life happens, when you are doing everything you can, working hard, trying to find work, or not being able to work due to circumstances beyond your control. It is nothing to be ashamed of . . . It is OK to ask for help.”
For families that find themselves struggling, Horsch advises starting with county health and human services departments.
“They would know more about it, or where to direct your call,” she said, adding that churches are also good resources.
In the past, Horsch’s family has received help from Dassel Church of Christ, St. James Lutheran Church in Howard Lake (where three of her children were baptized), and Gethsemane Lutheran Church in Dassel.
Mini pantry in Dassel
This year, Gethsemane Lutheran Church partnered with area youth in Grove City and Litchfield to build a mini pantry next to the church. It was dedicated Dec. 11, and construction was enabled through the Minnesota Youthbuild program of Central Minnesota Jobs & Training Services.
“A sign with ‘Take what you need. Leave what you can. Peace be with you’ will be added to the pantry,” noted Dena Carlson of Meeker County Social Services. “The youth are hopeful that the pantry is used when members of the community find themselves in need.”
For those able to contribute, Carlson encourages dropping off dry packaged food items. Due to freezing, canned food should not be left at the mini pantry.
The mini pantry is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Monetary donations may be sent to Gethsemane Lutheran Church, PO Box C, Dassel, MN 55325. (Note that the donation is for the pantry in the memo line.)
Another local resource is the Cokato-Dassel Lions Club Silent Santa program.
“We closed our signup and are serving 35 families and 91 children as of now,” Lion Mike Lhotka noted last Monday.
Assisting the Lions are members of the Dassel-Cokato National Honor Society, Heartland Community Action Agency, Wright County Social Services, and other area organizations.
Through the first part of December, new and unwrapped gifts were collected in boxes at area businesses and at Dassel-Cokato High School. Distribution took place Saturday morning at Cokato Baptist Church. Typically, gifts have been distributed to more than 150 individuals annually.
Blessing at any age
In addition to community groups, individuals in Cokato and Dassel have also found ways to bless others at Christmastime.
Andrea Nicholson’s family, for instance, spends time with senior citizens at Cedar Crest Estates in Silver Lake each year. The idea began a few years ago, when Andrea’s father, Cliff, was asked to dress as Santa for the Christmas program.
“Our oldest son was born in 2013, and my husband, Ed, and I thought it would be a great way to bless those there for Santa to have an elf,” Andrea noted. ”He was 9 months old then, and did circles around the room in his walker.”
The Nicholsons now have three children, and they’ve brought them to Cedar Crest Estates every year since.
“I love that they are learning that blessing others is a joy, and that even though they are young, they can do something,” Andrea noted.