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Sharing and Caring Place offers necessities for people in need in Heron Lake, Okabena

“We just have a small space, but it’s a place to start. It is so totally awesome, though! The church is doing that for us as part of their mission work. It’s wonderful that they are supporting us by allowing us to use that space.”

Christmas gift stock image by Kari Shea on Unsplash.
Christmas gift stock image by Kari Shea on Unsplash.
Kari Shea / Unsplash
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HERON LAKE — Though often a joyful time, the holiday season can also be a time of deep financial stress for families already struggling to make ends meet. Those in the Heron Lake-Okabena area who are experiencing difficulties will soon have a new way to get a little help — from other Heron Lake-Okabena community members.

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The Sharing and Caring Place, organized by the Heron Lake/Okabena Caring Connections group, will open Dec. 20 at the United Methodist Church in Heron Lake, offering a variety of necessities that aren’t available at the local food shelf to people who need them, for free.

“We’ve come a long way,” said Lisa Jean Smith, who started the Facebook group in 2020 in order to better reach people in need and foster a giving spirit in the community at large.

Since then, the group has obtained nonprofit status and worked on a number of community projects, including filling gift baskets for the Heron Lake Food Shelf and providing necessities and toys for students in need at the local schools.

The “store” has been a longtime goal for the group.

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“We just have a small space, but it’s a place to start,” Smith said. “It is so totally awesome, though! The church is doing that for us as part of their mission work. It’s wonderful that they are supporting us by allowing us to use that space.”

Caring Connections grew out of Smith’s attempt to find a family to help at Christmas, and her discovery of great need right there in her own community. At the same time, she also discovered it was difficult to get people to reach out when they did need help.

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“We thought opening this store, hopefully, will be an avenue and a welcoming place, because we have so many wonderful members of our group who are so willing to help,” Smith said.

The store will feature all sorts of donated items, from small kitchen appliances to blankets, pillows, books, DVDs, toys for children and kitchen items.

“We all have extra stuff in our homes, and rather than just tossing it in the garbage or boxing it up and leaving it in the basement, here’s an avenue to help somebody who might need that very thing you have stored away,” Smith said.

She anticipates that children’s clothing will likely always be needed, but cautioned that the group can’t take a large amount of it at this point, as space is limited and the needs aren’t fully known yet.

“We can only serve people that live in Heron Lake and Okabena and the little surrounding farm area around us,” Smith cautioned.

Items the store could use include gently used and clean boys’ and girls’ clothing and winter coats; baby clothes, family-oriented DVDs, puzzles, educational toys and games; towels, wash cloths, blankets and sheets; laundry soap, paper products, menstrual supplies and tissues; and new packages of children’s socks and underwear.

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“When I first started on this project, it was so sad for me to learn that kids weren’t coming to school in wintertime because they didn’t even have socks or underwear,” Smith said. “This shouldn’t be happening. So we’re always looking for new packages of underwear and socks, especially for kids.”

That includes women’s and men’s sizes, for those in high school.

Items can be brought to Becky Streiff at Fest Transportation in Heron Lake during its business hours, or donors may contact Lisa Jean Smith to schedule a drop-off time.

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Caring Connections is also always looking for monetary donations, which could be used for the store or Christmas gifts for the children they assist. An account is set up at Security State Bank in Heron Lake, or donations can be sent to Caring Connections, P.O. Box 164, Heron Lake.

This year, Caring Connections is allowing the children they help to choose gifts for their parents, something kids in need often want, but do not have the means to do.

The group is also partnering with the Sacred Heart Catholic Council of Women to sponsor an angel tree at Blue Heron Days, Smith said.

“I’m so grateful for all of the people and all of the support that this group has received, and in turn, how we can hopefully help others and make a difference for them,” Smith said.

She encouraged people who need a hand to use the Sharing and Caring Place when it opens.

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“Everybody has had those times in their life when something has become difficult, and (they) don’t always know that there are supportive people who care and are willing to help,” she said. “And just on a side note, I certainly know that from my own previous experience in life. And I know how hard it is. I know how hard it is to ask for help.

“But sometimes, when we give to others, we get the bigger gift through giving. And if someone in need allows someone to help them, they’re not just getting the benefit — the benefit is also to the person giving.”

For more information, join the Heron Lake/Okabena Caring Connections group on Facebook.

A 1999 graduate of Jackson County Central and a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, Kari Lucin started writing for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2006. During her time as a reporter, she covered beats including education, watershed, county and agriculture, and frequently wrote about health and science. She has also served as an online content coordinator and an engagement specialist at various Forum Communications properties. She was a marketing assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville for two years, where she did design work in addition to writing and social media management.

Lucin is currently a community editor with the Globe of Worthington.

Email: klucin@dglobe.com
Phone: (507) 376-7319
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