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Angel trees can be found at various business and community locations throughout the region. Select a tag and return a gift for a needy child. (Tribune photo by Carolyn Lange)

Be an angel: Give

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There's a 25 percent increase in the need for angels this year.

The increased demand for people who are willing to dig deep into their pockets and hearts is matched by the increasing number of people in need.

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A tough economy that's cut work hours, jobs and paychecks has meant a sharp climb in pleas for assistance this Christmas for everyday items like diapers and food, as well as gifts to put under the tree for a child.

In many cases, as the demand for assistance increases, the financial assistance of grants from the state have been cut, and local donations have not been able to fill the gaps -- yet.

Christmas is a good time for people to "rethink" how and why they give, said Ralph Johnson, a psychotherapist at Woodland Centers in Willmar.

"One of the greatest sources of happiness is doing something for someone else," he said, especially when giving "comes from deeply within a person."

Giving, said Johnson, should be "filtered down to the bloodstream" and come from the center of a person and not just the head.

Citing the biblical passage that it's more blessed to give than to receive, the Rev. Keith Kerstetter from the Assembly of God Church in Willmar said studies show that people who donate time and money to others in need are "happier and healthier people."

He said it's not unusual for church-going people to hold their wallet in the air and tell God that He can have everything "from the wrist down." Learning to give without thinking of yourself takes trust, said Kerstetter, who challenges people to not consider what they should give, but what they should keep.

Each year his church puts on special performances. Donations are accepted in lieu of a ticket price. Kerstetter said seven years ago the congregation began donating all the proceeds to a community organization. This year the money will go to the local Meals on Wheels program.

He said donations doubled when the focus went to helping people rather than paying for something within the church.

He said giving should be "other-centered" rather than "self-centered."

Johnson said Christmas time can bring stress and a lot of unhappiness.

He suggests stepping away from the commercialized expectations of the holiday that focus on what a person is going to "get" and replacing those expectations with kindness and gifts that will contribute to the larger good of society.

"Kindness is one of the most valuable virtues," said Johnson, and something that should be practiced year-round and not just at Christmas time.

Kerstetter agrees. Christmas is a "year-round mind-set," he said. Christmas should be a lifestyle. Giving should be a lifestyle. It is not an event."

Angel Tree locations

To participate in the Willmar Salvation Army's Angel Tree project, go to one of the following locations to obtain a tag with a child's name. Gifts can be returned to the Salvation Army, located at 521 Fourth St. S.W., Willmar. Call 320-235-2033 for more information.

Willmar: First Reformed Church, Bremer Bank, Concord Bank, First Baptist Church, McMillan's Restaurant, Cub Foods, Cash Wise Foods, KKLN the Loon, Wells Fargo Bank, Lakeland Broadcasting, Curves for Women, North American State Bank, Home State Bank, Jennie-O Turkey Store.

Atwater: Atwater State Bank.

Spicer: Jahnke Foods and United Prairie Bank.

Shelter House gifts

Items for women and children receiving services through the Shelter House can be brought to the following locations. A list of suggested gifts can be found on the donation box, or for more information call the Shelter House at 320-235-0962.

Willmar: Dunn Brothers, Heritage Bank, K-Mart, Nelson Chiropractic, Rice Hospital women and children unit, Vinje Lutheran Church, Wells Fargo Bank, First Reformed Church, Kandiyohi County YMCA, Evangelical Free Church, Methodist Church.

Pennock: Heritage Bank.

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Carolyn Lange
A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers county government and regional news with the West Central Tribune.
(320) 894-9750
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