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Making a difference… every day

It would be impossible to count the number of lives that have been impacted by Patsy Magelssen, of Waite Park, over the years. Her life of service to others comes out of a heartfelt desire to make a difference. At the age of 77, she is not slowing down.

Patsy Magelssen, of Waite Park, with some samples of towel holders from her Tabitha’s Handmaid display. Pasty sells the towel holders to help others. Photo by Jennie Zeitler

“I have to move forward,” she said with a grin. “I’m not dead yet so I just keep going!”

Patsy and her husband, Luther, travelled around the world on vacations and mission trips. They often accompanied student trips as chaperones, an economical way to experience other cultures. It was on some of these trips that they saw “terrible poverty.”

The images of people living in such poverty moved Patsy to search for ways to help. Years earlier, Patsy learned to sew in 4-H and discovered it was something she really liked to do. “It just stayed with me,” she said.

Patsy and Luther moved to Kansas for several years. It was there that she formed a volunteer service group called “Trash to Treasure” in 1979. She began buying end-of-season items from retailers and received discarded materials from factories and donations of fabric from individuals. She read a story about a company that made church pew cushions and immediately thought to herself, “I bet they have scraps!” She was given bags and bags of “waste” fabric by curtain manufacturers.

“How much waste there is in the world,” she said. “Any manufacturer has waste, and it can be used. You just have to figure out who is throwing away what and then what can be made brand new for a child somewhere in the world.”

The group worked on many projects, such as neck pillows, large bibs for nursing homes and school bags. Then the Trash to Treasure group began its involvement with Operation Christmas Child. They sewed all year long, making items to fill the shoeboxes.

The Samaritan’s Purse ministry, “Operation Christmas Child” was established in 1993. People in the United States and around the world fill shoeboxes with toys, clothes, school supplies, toiletries and small gifts. The boxes are delivered to children in need in countries across the globe. Since the ministry began, more than 135 million shoeboxes have been distributed.

That first year, more than 100 boxes were filled, but the group’s project “didn’t stay little very long.” The number of boxes rose to a high of 2,551 in 2010 and gradually decreased to 629 in 2017. Even so, in 2017 alone, Patsy sewed 450 dolls, about 700 purses/bags, about 550 pillowcase dresses, 855 jump ropes and countless jewelry items. Any extra items which were not used in the 629 shoeboxes she filled were donated to other groups for their shoeboxes.

After returning to Minnesota several years ago and later downsizing to a small house, materials and items for the shoeboxes were stored in a pole barn on Patsy’s son’s property. The sewing is still done at home, where a second bedroom is used as an office/sewing room.

In addition to the handmade items, Patsy purchases tablets, crayons, scissors, balls, stuffed animals, toothbrushes, soap and washcloths for the boxes.

“I can do a shoebox for about $4,” she said. “It’s a really fun thing!”

Over the years Patsy received a number of local and even national awards, including a KARE 11 service award. But she never sought the spotlight except as a way to help people in need.

With the Tabitha’s Handmaid project, Patsy sells towel holders with 100 percent of the funds going to purchase sewing machines and tools for women in third-world countries to support their families. Photo by Jennie Zeitler

It was hand surgery in October 2017 that changed Patsy’s direction. While sitting around, not sewing, she got to thinking about how she could continue to make a difference.

“I still want to witness – to tell people about Jesus Christ,” she said. “But the supplies and the shoe boxes are getting too heavy, especially in such large volumes.”

Rather than quitting altogether, she changed her focus to something more manageable than hundreds of shoeboxes each year. The new project idea that formed in her mind was a fabric towel holder. She had made them as gifts for her volunteers in Kansas and realized they could be used for fundraising now, so that Patsy could send monetary donations to ministries.

The name of the new project is “Tabitha’s Handmaid.” On cards which accompany each towel holder, the reason for the name is explained: “Just as the apostles performed a miracle to raise the servant Tabitha (Acts 9:36-42) to empower her to further make a difference, you too can make an impact on the life of someone less fortunate.”

One hundred percent of the funds raised by the sale of the towel holders goes to the purchase of sewing machines and tools for women in third-world countries to support their families.

Patsy has not ever had to worry about where the materials and supplies for the projects were going to come from.

“God just seems to send (the fabrics). Whenever I need something, it comes. I’ve never run out of material,” she said. “If I can make hundreds of dolls and bags and jump ropes, think how many of these little things (towel holders) I can make – and how many people we can help!”

Patsy is trying to get the word out by speaking to groups and visiting churches and other organizations. She recently spoke to the Red Hat Ladies at the St. Cloud Library to tell the story of Tabitha’s Handmaid. She also donated 200 towel holders to a local congregation for a fundraiser for a ministry providing stoves in Guatemala, HELPS International.

“There are so many different ways that people can help others,” she said. “It’s really God’s story – it’s all about helping people.”

To inquire about Tabitha’s Handmaid, call Patsy at (320) 217-2568.

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