Volunteers strive to brighten holidays for grieving families

Jan. 29 - Last month, Santa Claus extended his annual gift-giving trip to include a surprise Christmas morning at Korrina Haack’s Le Sueur cottage. Friends and representatives of a Minnesota nonprofit also showed up to help cheerful old goblins unload vehicles filled with gifts for the 34-year-old widow’s children.

“We originally picked the 23rd for our event, but there was a massive storm and the roads were closed…then Corina lost power at her house,” said Rachel Loweth, Arlington’s Best Christmas Ever team leader.

The holiday season, traditionally considered the most wonderful time of the year, has not been easy for Huck in 2022. She has been preparing to face her first Christmas since her husband’s unexpected death six months earlier.

She found herself—along with attending a local elementary school and raising an 8-year-old, 6-year-old twins, a 4-year-old and a 3-year-old—having to learn general maintenance responsibilities, such as changing valves.

“Brad always took care of things like that,” Huck said.

Relatives, friends and the church community were always ready to lend a hand to the family grieving the loss of their main breadwinner. However, taking care of an old farmhouse was adding to Huck’s stress.

When her phone rang shortly after 8 a.m. on December 25, she was unaware that relief was on the way in the form of gift certificates and the services of a handyman.

“I got a call saying, ‘Huh, ho, ho, we’ll be done in half an hour,'” Huck said.

Oblivious to surprises on their way, I donned a holiday-themed sweatshirt, donned baby clothes and waited for a brief visit from one group of friends.

Instead, a group of people arrived - family members, friends, and some strangers. Immediately, they follow Santa (who looks like a neighbor named Bob) through the front door.

The sudden “holiday mayhem” was orchestrated by the Minnesota-based Loythe Organization.

In no time, the Huck kids were opening presents—color-coded for specific recipients. Among Beau Haack’s gifts was a soccer jersey that the 6-year-old asked for that his mom couldn’t find. A member of the Christmas Morning squad tracked down the shirt for sale in Minneapolis.

The collection of gift certificates included free groceries, meals at restaurants, visits to hair salons, and a variety of services from other local businesses.

When Corinna asked what was going on and what needed to be done to ensure all the gifts, one of the volunteers told her, “All you have to do is pick a shade.” That was a reference to the wall paint.

It turns out that part of the surprise was the kitchen remodel.

“I felt like I won the jackpot and the lotto,” said Corinna.

Loweth said the Hacks were nominated by her close friend Kelsey Yanni.

“The outpouring of help from our church, the community and the best Christmas ever - as a parent, to see people do this for their child - has been humbling,” said Joe Pope, Corinna’s father.

He said his daughter is the type of person who was always there for others. He is grateful to others who have been there to provide his grandchildren with good Christmas memories.

Since its founding nearly 10 years ago, Best Christmas Ever has served nearly 500 families from several states and countries. Squad leaders may choose families from anywhere, as long as they are willing to travel to those locations.

BCE has a system in place that prevents tax penalties for beneficiaries and provides programs aimed at helping families improve their future.

Hack agreed to take part in the BCE-funded Comprehensive Wellness Program and a free course at Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

Loeth is the only BCE captain in the state’s southwest region. “My passion is helping rural areas of southwestern Minnesota… I want to make sure this corner of the state is served,” she said.

Last year, Lueth also coordinated a holiday surprise for a Wabasso family who recently suffered the tragic death of a child.

Organizing an event takes a lot of work and a lot of volunteers, but Loweth said she doesn’t mind being responsible and traveling. Five years ago, she was in a situation where others helped her.

BCE’s sister nonprofit organization, Jodi’s Christmas Sparkle, hosted Haacks’ second gifting event. The second surprise occurred on New Year’s weekend when the friends accompanied Huck on a trip to Bill Plain. They are joined by Dana Schaefer of Henderson and Annaleigh Toby of Jordan, who are Christmas Sparkle volunteers.

“We got wind her house needed a new roof,” said Schaefer, who helped arrange donations of shingles and roofing services for the Hacks home.

Schiffer and her husband, Jake, are the recipients of the 2019 Christmas Sparkle Award. Their son, Brogan, was 10 when he died in an accident. Tupy, is also a former recipient and a widow like Haack.

Christmas Sparkle was founded by a Le Sueur BCE recipient who was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Jodi Boisjolie started the organization as a “pay it forward” gesture in appreciation of what she had received.

“It felt amazing not only to help (Haacks) but to honor Judy’s legacy,” Schaefer said.

Grateful Hak sets herself the goal of becoming the captain of the BCE team. She also wants to use her experience with the two nonprofits as an educational tool for her children.

“I want them to know that there are good people in the world… From the moment the best Christmas ever arrives, they (her children) can see how wonderful it is when the community shows support.”

The Hack family has prepared and thanked the organizations that made donations. Loeth said that members of the American Legion of Saint Peter have noticed how touched they are by his family card.

Corinna said, “I hope that, as they grow up, my children will want to give back and pay it forward as well. I hope they will want to help others who have experienced grief.”