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Children and teens display depths of compassion through their “Helping Hands” letters, including those featured here out of several hundred received by the Wisconsin State Journal.

They responded to an invitation to explain how, if given $200, they would use it to help someone out during the winter holidays. Austin Parish of Richland Center, for example, wrote that he’d like to buy food and a sleeping bag for the homeless man who once lent him a helping hand.

Like Austin, most writers described needs of individuals or families in their community:

“They can only get groceries once a month.”

“She is also very scared not knowing what is wrong with her mom.”

“They live in a homeless shelter and she has three kids that she has to care for.”

Some wrote about needs within their own homes:

“Our clothes got small.”

“We don’t have as much food during the winter months.”

“My family has no money for firewood to heat the house.”

The needs vary from emotional boosts for families struck by illness to financial boosts for those whose basic expenses outstrip their income. Each letter is verified, and that process often reveals needs greater than those expressed by the letter writers. Sometimes the most compelling details are edited out to avoid identifying recipients who want to remain anonymous.

Funding through the State Journal Youth Services Inc. charitable arm and donors like Dick Moll, who contributed specifically to the Helping Hands program in memory of his late wife Pat Moll, exceeded $10,000 this year, allowing for larger grants to more recipients than in previous years. Some of their stories are included here.

Dear Helping Hands,

I know a teacher that has esophagus cancer. She is a single mom and has two children. She needs the money for gas cards.

She is a coach. She gives back to the community. She has taught for 20 years. She loves kids. She is a great teacher. She teaches P.E. and health. She is a big part of our community. — Maxwell Stingley, 10, fourth grade, Pineview Elementary School, Reedsburg

Classmates who wrote about the same family include Elizabeth Carey, Tess Voight and Seth Janachek.

Dear Helping Hands,

I would like to nominate a friend’s family. The dad has cancer. Because of this, the family is struggling to pay the bills. The treatments that he is going through are not covered by insurance. The dad is unable to work, and their family is having to pay a lot of money just to pay for the treatments and daily expenses.

If I had $200 to help their family, I would give it to them to do something special as a whole family. I would do this because it would give them something joyful during the holidays. Although my friend doesn’t talk about the difficulties, I imagine how hard and scary it would be to have a parent who is seriously ill. Thank you for considering my application. — Ian Bohachek, 11, sixth grade, Glacier Creek Middle School, Cross Plains

Dear Helping Hands,

I know a guy who could really use some help. I need to tell you a story that happened last year. I was walking into the town’s library when a homeless man saw me. He noticed that my only pair of shoes were held up by duck tape, packing tape and art tape. He said, “Can I help you get you a pair of shoes?”

And I said, “I guess.” Then he asked, “What size shoes do you wear?” So I told him. In about a week, he bought me OP skater shoes. This is ironic because this man is homeless, and he helped me! He only has a bike, backpack and the clothes on his back.

With $200 I would buy him some food, a sleeping bag, warm clothing and I would wish to rent a hotel for one night or two so he could be warm because he helped me. — Austin Parish, 12, seventh grade, Richland Middle School, Richland Center

Classmates who wrote about the same person include Ciara Rott, Jenna Levy, Hannah Zieroth, Cadence Starkey, Alex Imhoff, Collin Moore, Ethan Page, Kristin Halink, Isaac Boomfield and Max Schmidt.

Dear Helping Hands,

My family has a very hard time paying their bills. I barely get to see my mom because she has to get up at 4 a.m., and when my mom gets home, she tries to pay her bills, make my family dinner and then goes to bed at 8 p.m. I try to spend time with her, but my mom always says she is too tired. — A Lodi girl

Dear Helping Hands,

If there was a chance that I could give one family $200, I would give the money to a large family I know because they don’t have much money for food nor clothes. You can tell that they don’t get much food at home. They are really skinny, and they can stick their whole hand under their ribs. Since they can’t afford clothes, I give them my clothes that I outgrew. The parents are working almost 24/7. For sports, they get help from the coaches or other people for the money to play. They also get bullied a lot because of their clothes or their grades. I want to help them because that’s what friends are for. — Carter Grim, 13, eighth grade, Iowa-Grant Middle School

Classmate Hunter Silvers also wrote about the same family.

Dear Helping Hands,

My friend’s mom is in the hospital very sick and they do not know what is wrong. She is new in the area and her dad is living in another state. She was very scared having to move to a new school. She also is very scared not knowing what is wrong with her mom.

They do not have a lot of money to buy things they need. They have a lot of expenses right now, and she needs some new warm winter clothes: coat, snow pants, boots, hats, mittens, pants and sweater. She only has a few hand-me-downs now.

The $200 would really help her so she could be warm this winter. Please pretty please help my friend. She really needs some new winter clothes and a pretty holiday dress. — Emily Graber, 10, fifth grade, Mineral Point Elementary School, Mineral Point

Classmates who wrote about the same family include Kelsie Wilson and Blake Radtke.

Dear Helping Hands,

I am writing to ask for $200 for a family with several kids who are deserving because they depend on just their mom for food and toiletries. The mom has a disability and can’t work. She tries to earn money by doing some small jobs from her home. They can only get groceries once a month and have to live off those groceries for the rest of the month. That is very hard for one mother to care for them this way. — Aaron Meier, 12, seventh grade, Barneveld School, Barneveld

Classmates who wrote about the same family include Jackson Vacha, Owen Pechan and Claire Brindley.

Dear Helping Hands,

I would like to write about a small family of whom I feel could use the extra $200, not only for Christmas, but to help pay for living expenses such as heat, electricity and clothes.

The mom was overheard saying their heat was going to be shut off if the bill was not paid soon. With the colder weather ahead, this would be a terrible thing!

This mom lost her day job in Madison a few years ago. She finally got another job but now has to work during the night. After the mom gets home the next morning, she helps out an area farmer with chores. This mom is lucky to get 3-4 hours of sleep a day before having to go back to work the next night.

This family has been very good to my family. It would be nice to do something in return, especially close to the holidays. In the past, my family has participated in the “Adopt a Family” program. I actually went shopping with my own money to purchase items another child had on his list because he really needed them. It was a good feeling knowing I was helping another child out for the holidays because holidays are supposed to be a happy time for families.

I really hope my letter is chosen for this family. Maybe the mom could take a night off from work and do something special with her daughter. Priceless! — Jared Wedig, 10, fifth grade, Mineral Point Elementary School, Mineral Point

Dear Helping Hands,

In class we have been talking about empathy. I feel that giving people a better holiday would make them happy and make me happy, so I hope to give somebody money. The person I know does not have a job, they live in a homeless shelter, and she has three kids that she has to care for.

By giving her the gift of money, I feel it would let her and her kids have a good Christmas. I hope I can help them in this nice way. — Conley Dohse, 8, third grade, Northside Elementary, Middleton

Dear Helping Hands,

If I had $200 I would give it to my aunt’s family that desperately needs help. I also live with her. I see her struggling a lot. I would like the $200 for her and her family for rent, electric bills, food for us and our pets.

She was injured and can’t work due to the fact of her leg and nerve damage, which is making it hard for her to move around. She is a sweet lady who always helped when someone was down and in need. Now she is down and is in need. She sells her things to make money to support our family. My uncle had to sell his bike to make money.

My sister and I work for our landlord. We go rock picking with him. It’s $5 a field. Last summer we only made $10 each. It was hard. They were big, big fields. We almost got kicked out of our house.

My aunt is so awesome. I wish for her leg to get better. So can we as a state please, please, please, please help this family. Thank you for all your help. — A Reedsburg girl

Dear Helping Hands,

I know someone who could use new clothes and shoes and food. He is a kind kid. He does not have any winter clothing. He could use a helping hand in school.

His mom works three jobs and still can’t pay for clothes, food and water. If I had $200, I would give it to this kid and help him spend it on clothes, shoes and food. I would give his family the rest of the money. — Aden Wilson, 12, seventh grade, Richland Middle School, Richland Center

Dear Helping Hands,

I’m writing this letter to ask for help. My family probably doesn’t need the help as much as other families do. The help would be greatly appreciated. We don’t have as much food during the winter months.

My dad should get the money. It makes him sad that he doesn’t have as much food in the house. It pains me to see him sad like that. It would make him very happy if he got more food during the winter months. My dad pays extra for heat in the winter months, so we don’t have as much food. — A Richland Center boy

Dear Helping Hands,

If I could help one family I would help a family with a 6-year-old boy with a brain cancer called medulloblastoma. He goes to American Family Children’s Hospital in Madison. He lives with his grandma and mom. He is going through treatments and chemotherapy that prevent him from going to school. His grandma and mom take a lot of days off work to take care of him. — Mariah Mortimer, 11, sixth grade, Rio Middle-High School, Rio

A classmate, Kylee Schraufnagel, wrote about the same family.

Dear Helping Hands,

I would choose my mom for my Helping Hand. She needs a furnace. She needs warm foods like soup. She needs winter supplies like gloves, hats, scarves and ear muffs. She needs extra food just in case. She needs some cold sealed windows. The cold air always gets inside. — A Madison boy

Dear Helping Hands,

I would give $200 to my mom so she could buy us shoes and clothes for us to wear for school or go to Chicago, so we would have some clothes to wear just in case we go outside to play. She works really hard to take care of me and my brothers. She works two jobs and she works late. — A Madison boy

Dear Helping Hands,

I am writing to ask for $200 for a couple who is deserving because they have had to take four children into their home because of recent situations. Some of the children had become homeless, so they have taken them in. It costs quite a bit of money to supply the children with shelter, food and clothes. I imagine how hard it is for the children trying to process school and family situations at the same time. I think this couple could really use the $200 to help with raising these children. — Tia Phillips, 14, eighth grade, Barneveld School, Barneveld

Classmates who wrote about the same family include Audrey Hendrickson, Allana Smith and Kyla Ihm.

Dear Helping Hands,

My family needs money. They need water, food, shoes, and we want phone, mail and internet. Our clothes got small. — A Madison boy

Dear Helping Hands,

One person in my community that needs a helping hand is a boy who is really nice and a good friend to have. His family right now has a lack of money. One thing he needs is food for his family because his mom is having a hard time getting money for her family and for clothes, their house and for food. His mom is having a hard time working because she has to get home so they won’t be home alone, and because her husband died, so she is the only one in the family getting money to support her family.

Another reason he needs money is because he is very skinny and it looks like he does not get enough to eat. If you could get him the $200, his family would be very grateful. — Austin Piotrowski, 10, fifth grade, Spring Hill Elementary School, Wisconsin Dells

Dear Helping Hands,

If I had $200 to give to someone, I would give it to some children I really think deserve it. I see how they are in need. They sometimes don’t have enough to eat, or money to buy clothes. In fall and winter they sometimes wear only shorts and T-shirts, and they once went to a house asking for food during a party because they were starving.

I can guess that they won’t have a proper Christmas. This year I want to change that. If they could receive some things that they need, such as enough food or clothes, or even some new toys, I’m sure they would be overjoyed.

Thank you for reading my letter and I hope you consider them as worthy candidates. If they were to receive the money, I would like it to be given to the school, so we may provide them with gifts. — Mercedes Huebel, 15, 10th grade, Wonewoc-Center High School, Wonewoc

Dear Helping Hands,

I would like to give $200 to my mom. We have recently moved. Once we moved, my mom thought we were moving away from stress. After we moved, my mom lost her job and lost lots of money because my father can’t work. He has recently had surgery because he has a type of cancer. I have younger brothers, too.

Please help. Our family is slowly falling apart.

If I won the $200 I would buy clothes for all five of us and things that my little brother may need. — A Richland Center teen

Dear Helping Hands,

I know some children who could use the $200 this holiday season. The children’s father is a single dad. He is self-employed doing odds and ends jobs just to try and make ends meet. Their mother doesn’t live with them, nor do they see her often if ever. Their father is always willing to sell anything they don’t need to make extra money to help pay the bills.

I would like the $200 to be given to the family to be used to buy the children clothes such as winter coats, boots, mittens, hats and other clothes they may need such as pants, shirts, jackets, etc. — Alexis Miller, 16, 10th grade, Wonewoc-Center High School, Wonewoc

Dear Helping Hands,

My family has lived in our house for a while. And we have nothing to heat our house. And it gets cold in the winter.

I would use the money to buy firewood to heat the house. But we don’t have money for any firewood. You don’t have to give me the money; it will be like every other winter.

My bed has only five blankets on it. And it gets really, really cold on the cold winter nights. But my family has no money for firewood to heat the house. — A Richland Center boy

Dear Helping Hands,

Would you help our friend? This mother and daughter are dear members of our church. This person is homeless and needs shelter. It is getting cold outside and without shelter, they will get very sick and cold.

The mother has recently lost her job and she is searching for a new one. It would be a blessing to them and to us if you give them $200. They can use it for food, covers and everything they need to survive. — Trinity Middlebrook, 13, eighth grade, Fountain of Life Church Sunday middle school class.

Others in the Sunday school program who wrote about the same family are Maurion Dunahee, Curtis L. Brown IV, Caleb Smith and Harry Hawkins.

Dear Helping Hands,

I am writing to let you know about a family who could use a helping hand. They belong to my parish. There are several children and most attended my school. One daughter has special needs and had to go to another school.

When the economy became bad, they lost their business and their home. Now they are renting a home. They gave generously to our school when they were able to, and they still give their time. I have been told that they are a very proud family and would never ask for help for themselves. I would like to see them have some money to help buy groceries and pay some bills. My teachers and other staff members have also volunteered to donate what they can to help this family. We are taught at my school to follow Jesus’ example of giving unselfishly to others. It makes me feel good to help others.

Thank you very much for this program. I want to help others to have a blessed holiday season. — John Scott, 9, fourth grade, St. Joseph School, Baraboo

Dear Helping Hands,

We live in a motel. We try to help others. I’m asking for help for my mom. My mom went through two surgeries, and she needs a new kidney.

My mom was in the coma for two weeks. It was only my dad taking care of us. I prayed to God to bring my mom back. One morning, my mom woke up from her coma. My dad took me to see her. I was so sad after the brain surgery. My mom didn’t know her own kid’s name.

We can’t buy food because my dad lost his job, and my mom goes to dialysis. My mom does everything she can do for us. I told her you need to get healthy and stronger. — A Madison boy

Dear Helping Hands,

I will help my friend with $200 to have a good home and a coat and shoes. — Koriyanna Fitzpatrick, 6, first grade, Hawthorne Elementary School, Madison

Dear Helping Hands,

I will like to give away $200 to my mom because my dad left my family. My mom raises all three of us kids. It has been a struggle ever since. We have to wait a while for my mom to get food in the house. It is very hard paying bills and other stuff. I think my mom and our family deserve it. — A Madison boy

Dear Helping Hands,

I would like to give $200 to my older sister because she took care of me when my mom didn’t know how to. She hid all the bad things I didn’t need to see. She gave me her food when she knew I had nothing to eat. Around her I finally felt wanted and safe. I felt that somebody loved me again.

To this day, I love her with all my heart. This would show her how much I really love her. I would like to be exactly like my older sister. I will cherish her with my life. My sister is an amazing person! — A Madison girl

Dear Helping Hands,

I choose my mom for my Helping Hand because she needs money for gas, food and for laundry. And she doesn’t have that much money. She works late and has two jobs so she has some money. — A Madison boy

Dear Helping Hands,

I would want to help my sister. I would use the $200 to get food for my baby sister. — Jersey Smoot, 9, fourth grade, Leopold Elementary School, Madison

Dear Helping Hands,

My dad needs some money for the rent, so we can have a house and not live on the streets. If we have to live on the street, we will get sick and we don’t want that to happen. I have a little brother that already has snow pants but needs some snow boots.

So if I had $200, I would like to help my dad, my mom, my brother and my classroom. — A Madison boy

Dear Helping Hands,

My family is very poor. I hardly have clothes or shoes. I know my mom is trying her hardest to provide for us. We are struggling. We have no food in our house. I’m hungry at times, but I go to school and eat.

We really need help. I want to get a job, so I can help my mom pay the bills and put food in my house. If you help us, we would be very grateful. — A Madison teen

Dear Helping Hands,

If I had $200 and I was going to give it to someone that would be mom because my mom loves us and she really wants to give us good gifts for Christmas, and I think she really deserves a reward for being helpful to the family.

I really love my mom and I am really hoping my mom will get a reward. I love to see a smile on her face. I love you, Mommy! — Berlynn Michalski, 10, fifth grade, Sandburg Elementary

Dear Helping Hands,

I have someone on my mind that needs $200. She has three kids. She doesn’t have a lot of money to buy anything for her kids. She is trying to find a job right now because she can barely buy her kids something to eat.

Her kids don’t even know that they’re getting nothing for Christmas, and that’s one of the reasons that she needs $200 really bad. These are all my reasons that I think she needs the money. — Anthony Holliday, 11, fifth grade, St. Dennis School, Madison

Dear Helping Hands,

I am writing to you for my grandma from my sister and me. We wish we could buy our grandma a mattress, a real mattress not a blow-up mattress like the one she has now. Our grandma has been through a lot and she deserves something to make her happy. She hasn’t been happy in a long time.

Our grandma’s boyfriend used to beat her up a lot. We used to see her black eyes, and she made excuses but we knew because he was so mean to her when we visited her house. A while back, he almost killed her. He knocked out some of her teeth and fractured her tailbone. She has a lot of pain and can’t go back to work yet. He’s in jail and Grandma went to the domestic violence shelter and they got her help. She has an apartment of her own. She has doctors helping her. We are so happy she didn’t die.

She really needs a bed because her back is in a lot of pain. It’s hard for her to get up and down from the floor. The blow-up bed isn’t tall enough. It would be awesome if we could buy her a bed. I know it would freak her out. She’d be in shock! — A Madison teen and her sister

Dear Helping Hands,

I will like to help my mom with the $200 to pay her bills because she is a single mom without a job. She has been trying to get a job, but it hasn’t been working out, so she has to borrow money from her friends, and she doesn’t like to borrow money from her friends like that. And that is a lot of money to borrow, so please help us, Helping Hands. — A Madison boy

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