Lake Country exemplifies three French hens' motto
Hope. Faith. Charity.
In the "12 Days of Christmas" song, those are symbolized by the three French hens. To some, they might be just words representing an intangible idea. But for some local organizations, they represent their mission and what they stand for.
This couldn't have been more apparent than at the recent Operation Christmas Child event at Divine Redeemer Lutheran Church and School in Hartland.
There were kids putting together gift-filled shoe boxes - 7,609 to be exact (almost 10 percent more than last year) - that will be shipped to Niger, a country in northwestern Africa, and there were families sharing in the joy of knowing that they will help those less fortunate have a Christmas present this year.
Maybe most notably, though, they heard the story of Ted Foreman, a man who embodies these three traits to the fullest.
"It was just so neat and awesome to hear him tell his story," said Terry Williams, coordinator of the local Operation event.
A story of hope
It's a story that shows how his faith remains strong, despite the many challenges in his life. How he had hope in others during rocky times. How he's now an advocate for charity, specifically OCC.
As a child, Foreman, now 22 and living in Minnesota, spent years in a Russian orphanage, struggling with daily life.
But, he told the packed gymnasium at Divine Redeemer, he received a shoe box through OCC when he was 9. He told them how he began eating the toothpaste because he thought it was candy. And he told them how excited he was to finally receive a wash cloth because he had been sharing everything with the boys in his orphanage, including towels.
This box told him there was good out there in the world.
Foreman was eventually adopted by a family in Minnesota and landed on his own two feet because, he said, he never lost hope in OCC's message of faith in God and others.
A story of faith
Williams spread that hope when she dropped off the OCC boxes in Minnesota a couple weeks ago.
While there, she shared the story of her visit to villages and hospitals in the Dominican Republic earlier this year and how grateful the children were when they received the gift-filled shoe boxes.
"I don't usually feel comfortable speaking in front of people, but it touched a lot of people," said Williams, who housed Foreman for a couple of days at her Oconomowoc home. "I told them that we started with 20 shoe boxes in a Bible class 10 years ago, so this gives them hope that we are making a difference."
They prayed before the semi truck that held the more than 600,000 shoe boxes left for New Jersey - the last stop before they would be in the hands of happy boys and girls around the world.
Once the children receive their shoe boxes - the organization reaches more than 130 countries- they are told, just as Foreman was, to keep the faith and have hope that there will be better days.
"We want them to have faith in us and faith that there are people in the United States that love them and believe in them, and we want them to know that they are a miracle from God," Williams said.
A story of charity
While not reaching the international audience of OCC, Terri Blazek carries the symbolism of the three French hens on a local level.
Blazek is co-president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society (St. Charles Conference), a Catholic-based nonprofit volunteer organization that has used St. Charles Parish and School in Hartland for its food pantry the last nine years.
The St. Charles conference has 35 active volunteers who help run the food pantry as well as offer person-to-person assistance to those struggling to pay rent and other utilities.
Volunteers also visit the homebound and hospitalized, work at local St. Vincent de Paul Society thrift stores and help direct people to agencies that can provide assistance.
They want those they are helping to have hope in St. Vincent de Paul and to have faith in them - regardless of whether they support a religion, Blazek said.
"You don't have to be Catholic or belong to St. Charles," said Blazek, who has been involved with St. Vincent for the last three years and is a member of St. Charles.
Need is great
Blazek said the group made 123 home visits from October 2011-October 2012 and provided financial assistance to 305 clients.
About 2,800 people used the food pantry during the last year, 47 percent more than the year before.
"The need has grown," said Blazek, who added she gets calls from six to eight new families looking for assistance each month.
Getting everyone to understand this need has been an obstacle, Blazek said.
"Some are not aware of this, and our shelves can get pretty bare in September or October," Blazek said.
Blazek said in addition to food items, the pantry (open from 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and from 5:30 to 7 p.m. the second and fourth Tuesdays) always needs other items such as toilet paper and basic hygiene products.
Blazek is hoping more donations come in. "We're definitely seeing a huge increase (in the number of people using the pantry) now," she said.
The pantry will get a boost as Stone Bank School collected food donations at its chicken dinner last weekend, and when the Canadian Pacific Holiday Train comes to Hartland Saturday night it will drop off canned goods for the pantry.
Photo: Dennis and Terry Williams pose with a semi full of shoe boxes being sent through Operation Christmas Child. (Submitted photo)
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