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Warm fuzzies for those in need

The girls and their blankets: First row (left to right): Abby Jasken, Courtney Rader, Marisa Pace, Kaitlyn Mack, Madison Bowers, Trisha Gebhart, Brea Johnston, Bella Edvall. Second row (left to right): Brianna Johnson, Emme Traurig, Desi Swanson, Brina Smith, Shelby Busker, Gracee Traurig, Riley Chase, Jack Pace, Sean Summers. Submitted Photo1 / 2
Marisa Pace sits among some of the 22 blankets she and her friends made at her birthday party. She donated all the blankets to the Lakes Crisis and Resource Center in Detroit Lakes. Brian Basham/Tribune2 / 2

Right now there are 10 children staying at the Lakes Crisis and Resource Center in Detroit Lakes. Some of them are very little, some are school-aged children … all of them have been through too much.  But what they don’t know as they snuggle into their new, colorful fleece blankets is that somebody cares about them … somebody they’ve probably never met … somebody who just turned 11 years old.

Marisa Pace is the little girl behind many of those fleece blankets. The Detroit Lakes fifth-grader recently had a birthday, but there didn’t seem to be a thing in the world she needed.  “I had so much stuff already,” she said, sweetly, “and so I just wanted to help kids that didn’t have as much as I did.”

Fresh off news of the school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, Marisa began trying to think of ways to help.  “She has such a big heart,” said Marisa’s mom, Joni, “but so many people were already sending so much out there, and so I told her, ‘Maybe you should look around your own community to see if there’s need.’”

Marisa looked around and saw her friends – nearly an army of other little girls who could help her exponentially with her plight to do some good.  And as the middle-schooler thought about how she loved blankets, her plan fell into place.

“Blankets just make me feel happy or warm when I don’t feel good or I’m going through a tough time,” said Marisa, who found out one of her fifth grade teachers, Linda Mickelson, was on the board of the Lakes Crisis Centers. “And so I thought about those kids in there and thought if they need the crisis center, they’re probably not feeling the best.”

Marissa sent out the invitations to her birthday party, one of which went to her friend, 11-year-old Brianna Johnson.  “The invitation said she didn’t want any presents, but we were supposed to bring two pieces of fleece,” said Brianna, who thought the whole plan was “cool.”  “I thought it was cool too,” said fellow friend, Brina Smith, “She was being so kind.”

Fourteen little girls showed up to the party at Zion Lutheran Church that night, fleece in hand.

“Mine was blue and pink with princesses on it,” said party-goer, Courtney Rader, who says while she was making it, she sat there and wondered who would get it. “I hoped it would make them smile,” she said.

The colorful blankets all had different patterns and designs.

Stripes, monkeys, butterflies, soccer balls — all kinds of patterns splashed the fuzzy material, all pulled together and tied with the loving little hands of giggling girls.

In all, the girls, plus Marissa’s brother and his friend, were able to make 22 blankets.  “It was a lot of fun,” said Marisa, who believes that kids are capable of changing the world.  “I think that anybody can make a difference no matter how old they are,” she said, “if you really try to work hard, you can make a big difference in people’s lives even if it’s not by doing a huge task.”

And as small as that task was, Crisis Center Director Jan Logan says they’ll go a long way for the children who cuddle with them tonight.  “There are some kids that really have nobody,” said Logan, “And they need us because these kids are the innocent victims of adult behavior and they have no voice.”

Logan says when first heard of Marisa’s actions, she immediately wanted to meet her mother.  “Because I thought, what an amazing mother she must be to teach her daughter to be so selfless,” said Logan.

But Joni Pace takes no credit.  “This isn’t me or my husband, this is her … she has just always had a big heart and cares so much about the people around her,” said Pace, “We are very proud of her.”

And as the blankets all sat in Linda Mickelson’s fifth grade class before being picked up, she explained to the students what they were for.  “In my 20-some years of teaching, I haven’t seen a kid do something like this,” said Mickelson, “and now I hope that if the seed is planted, other kids might take off and so the same thing.”

According to some of the Marisa’s friends, Mrs. Mickelson just might get her wish, as Brina, Brianna and Courtney all agreed that they, too, are now thinking about what they can do for their birthdays that would help others.

“I hope that this continues and more kids choose to do different things like I did,” said Marisa, whose parents have always told her to ‘dream big.’ “It just makes me feel good inside knowing maybe we helped somebody who needed it.”