A cause close to his heartAfter Thanksgiving, the holiday gift-giving season kicks into high gear as people hit the stores looking for presents for neighbors, relatives and friends to check off their list.
By: Danielle Killey, The Republican Eagle
After Thanksgiving, the holiday gift-giving season kicks into high gear as people hit the stores looking for presents for neighbors, relatives and friends to check off their list.
But Pastor Gene Hasselquist has a slightly longer list than most.
Hasselquist will head to Donna, Texas, just after Thanksgiving with a semi-truck load of donated clothing, toys, bicycles and more for children at a border school there. There are more than 500 students enrolled at the school this year.
The 88-year-old recently came out of retirement to help lead Tabor Lutheran Church in Bay City, but spends the winter months volunteering at Runn Elementary School in Texas.
“These kids are very close to my heart,” Hasselquist said.
The school is a mile off the Mexico border, he said, and most of the children who attend the school are at or below the poverty level.
Hasselquist coordinates with the Love of Christ Church there to supply the donated materials to the children.
“Anyone from the school district can come and get anything they want,” he said.
Volunteers buy school uniforms and shoes for the children and throw a Christmas party where each child receives a gift, juice, chips, cookies, socks and other treats and necessities.
They also supply food baskets for Thanksgiving and Christmas packed with 50 to 60 pounds of food, he said
“The nurse at the school identifies the families that need the food,” he said.
Hasselquist works as a mentor for the students once a week as well, giving them one-on-one assistance where they need more attention.
Many of the children miss classes because they must travel with parents who work elsewhere, and they need help catching up. But the work the teachers and volunteers do pays off, because the students still succeed.
“Last year the children took second in the state of Texas academically,” he said. “That goes to prove they can keep up with the kids in the upper echelon even though they’re in the poverty level.”
Hasselquist will make the trek to Texas on Nov. 25 and the semi will unload its gifts later that week.
Everything from the materials to the semi-truck is donated, and there are fundraisers to cover the fuel for the truck.
“Nobody makes any money off this,” he said.
The Texas trips are something Hasselquist had picked up in his retirement.
He attended Augsburg College after farming for years and was ordained in 1951. St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Red Wing had Hasselquist as its pastor from 1970 to 1987. He retired after his time there, but was recently called back to work.
Tabor Lutheran Church needed someone to lead its congregation when it split from Svea Lutheran Church in Hager City, so the “retiree” preaches once a month, visits shut-ins and gives communion.
Hasselquist’s son-in-law, Dane Petersen, will help lead the Bay City church while he’s away this winter. Hasselquist will return for a Dec. 23 Christmas service.
Bill Kirk contributed to this story.