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HELPING LOCAL FAMILIES IN NEED: A wish for those having tough year

Detroit Lakes Kiwanis member Denise Fredrickson remembers a time when Christmas wasn't exactly jolly for her.

"I was a single mom with three kids and there were times when I couldn't even afford milk," said Fredrickson, who added that all she wanted to do was give her children a good Christmas.

Today, Fredrickson has turned those struggles into strength, as she is now part of the driving force behind the Holiday Wish Program, which is designed to give a little holiday lift to people who've recently hit hard times.

The program has been a labor of love between the Kiwanis Club and KRCQ for the past 13 years.

"The way it works is, somebody in the community nominates a family or individual they know who have suffered a misfortune and could benefit from a little help," said Fredrickson.

That help usually comes in the form of a $250 check.

The money is raised through community donations, then matched by the Kiwanis Club up to $2,500.

Last year, generous donors pushed that amount to $6,125, which was given out to 28 families or individuals who had a hard year.

Fredrickson says the letters they get can be both heartbreaking and inspirational.

"We've had people that have had house fires or medical issues that have had them driving back and forth to Mayo or Fargo, the loss of a job, an accident or maybe a death in the family."

Fredrickson says talking about this program makes her emotional because she knows first-hand what it can do for people who are facing some of their darkest hours.

"I lost a son at the age of 29; it was November and he had two little ones," said Fredrickson, "and somebody nominated his wife and little ones, so I can draw on that to know how it would personally feel to be on the receiving end of something like this -- to know that there really are people who care, because too many people are forgotten."

There are only three Christmas Wish committee members who sift through the requests, so winners are kept anonymous.

"That way they can feel good about themselves; they can know that people care without feeling like they're taking a handout because they're all in situations they don't want to be in," said Fredrickson, "sometimes life just happens and not in a good way."

Fredrickson says the Kiwanis get a lot of request in, and so many of them are heartbreaking.

The letters chosen are then read over the KRCQ airwaves, spreading the holiday spirit along the way.

"We'll maybe use a first name on air, but we keep it pretty anonymous," said Jeff Leighton, general manager of Leighton Broadcasting, which includes KRCQ. "It's been a tradition at KRCQ since the beginning, and it's just a great way to help out people who are having a tough time for one reason or another."

Although technically there is a Dec. 20 deadline for receiving letter requests, Fredrickson says there have been times when they've received them on Christmas Eve, when she or another Kiwanis member would personally meet those people somewhere to give them money.

"It's Christmas; we could hardly say 'no, it's cut-off time,' so we found a way to get them the money in time for them to hurry up and buy their kids some presents for Christmas," said Fredrickson.

However, the later it gets, the more of a chance the program will start to run low on funds, and Fredrickson says when that happens, they begin to cut the checks down to $125 or even less to make sure everybody gets something.

Although Fredrickson says the decisions can be tough as to whom to grant the wishes to, she says local businesses and individuals have proven generous enough to fill many of the requests.

"I think that almost everybody knows of somebody down the street from them or at work or church who could use this," said Fredrickson, "and I also believe that we were all put here in this earth to serve -- this is something we can do."

To nominate somebody for a Holiday Wish, send a letter to the Kiwanis at PO Box 398, Detroit Lakes, MN 56502.