The Helping Hand Club of Linwood Township, which started as an old-fashioned ladies aid group, continues to help community members.
Ladies from the Helping Hand Club of Linwood donate their time and talents to better their local communities. Pictured here, from left, are: Jan Erickson, Sandi Kugel, Judy Hanna, Kate Allquist, Jean Torgerson, Bettie Gigler, Marcella Zeches, Elsie Groth, Phyllis Wenzel, Eileen Reinke, Carol Searing, Joan Meyman and Dorothy Bierma.
Although ladies aid groups have largely disappeared, the Helping Hand Club of Linwood is still going, and in many ways operates much as it did nearly a century ago.
As the name suggests, the women's club tries to lend a hand wherever it can, often literally in the form of handiwork.
The 20-member group meets monthly at the Linwood Senior Center in Linwood Township. It does such things as sew lap robes for seniors in nursing homes, serve food at special events, and host bake sales to raise money for scholarships.
Town Clerk Judy Hanna, who has been active with the club since the 1980s, says it fills an important role in Anoka County's only remaining township. "We don't have any other civic groups like this," she said.
At the same time, "This club helps us to maintain some of the history of Linwood," she said.
Rhonda Sivarajah, chairwoman of the Anoka County Board, said the club is reminiscent of one her grandmother once belonged to. "It's really refreshing to see that in the hustle and bustle of life, people are taking time to get together and focus on trying to meet the needs within the community," she said.
The early days
When it was formed in 1916, the club set out to be a "neighborhood social affair, and to lend a helping hand wherever the Club sees fit," Helping Hand materials state.
Unlike many other benevolent groups, the club is community-based, not faith-based, said Maria King, an Andover resident who used to work for the Anoka County Historical Society, where she still volunteers.
At first, the group's bylaws went so far as to limit the lunch part of its monthly meeting to three "articles," such as sandwiches, cake and coffee, as a way to curtail the social time, she said.
However, it wasn't long before the meal became the group's focus, she said.
Its motto became, "Bigger and better," the record shows.
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, the dues-paying women joined the Anoka chapter of the Red Cross. They made everything from "comfort bags" for soldiers to hospital handkerchiefs.
The club also stayed active during the Depression, holding bridal showers and benefits such as ice cream socials, "box lunch" parties and rummage sales.
The women stayed up-to-date on cultural happenings as well, by sending a representative to lectures or university classes, who would then report back. "You have to remember, this is a time when there was no TV, just radio," said King.
More informally, club meetings also gave the women a chance to get out of the house and catch up on gossip, she said.
Marcella Zeches, a longtime Linwood resident, joined the club about 15 years ago.
Part of what makes it fun is that when volunteering, "You help yourself. It feels so good. I love helping people," she said. "Some day people will have to help me. Right now, I'm healthy enough to do things."
For Eloise Tyren, who has been crocheting since she was 13, it's a good way for her to contribute. "I can sit and crochet and watch TV and not miss a stitch," said Tyren, who joined the group last year.
Also, she's well aware of the difference that the colorful "lap robes" and other items make for people in nursing homes and elsewhere. They provide warmth and "brighten up their life," she said. "I think those things help."
Likewise, for its members, the club is a means of connection and friendship. It's not a big group so "everyone is pretty close. We do a lot of sharing about what's going on," Tyren said.
Anna Pratt is a Minneapolis freelance writer.