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Shirley Aufdenberg honored as local ‘Hometown Hero’

Shirley Aufdenberg displays her certificate from Modern Woodmen and a tote bag as a sample of the ones she makes for Operation Christmas Child. Photo by Gregory Dullum

Shirley Aufdenberg has been named a “Hometown Hero” by the Modern Woodmen of America in Jackson for her volunteer efforts. She received a certificate and a $100 grant for the charity of her choice during a ceremony at Pizza Inn Feb. 7. The money will go to Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child, which sends shoeboxes packed with toys, supplies, clothes, etc., to needy children in third-world countries.

Aufdenberg has been a volunteer with Operation Christmas Child at St. Paul Lutheran Church for three years.

“I do a lot of sewing, so I I’ve made a lot of things,” Aufdenberg said. “The main thing that I’ve been making are the tote bags that we put in each shoebox.” Children can keep the items from their shoebox in the tote bag or, if they do school work, they can put their school papers in it.

“Now I have only made probably a hundred, but we do 1,000 boxes,” Aufdenberg explained. “So other people do them [too], and some people purchase bags. I get a lot of fabric donated to me to make this, and then I garage sale. Upholstery fabric works well — just a heavy fabric — and then I put handles on it. It’s very simple.”

Aufdenberg does her sewing at home and brings the finished products to the church. Sometimes her grand-daughters help sew.

“Both of my granddaughters have made these [tote bags], so its a very simple first-year sewing project,” Aufdenberg said.
“We have made a few pieces of clothing,” she added. “My one granddaughter made a skirt this past year and entered it as her 4-H project, and won a Best-of -Show ribbon for that.”

When her granddaughter later helped pack shoeboxes, she put her award-winning skirt in one of them.

Aufdenberg has also made a lot of small cloth bags that can hold little toys, games or other items.

Aufdenberg started volunteering with Operation Christmas Child after her husband, Robert, passed away in June 2021. She had heard of the Helping Hands group at her church that worked on the shoeboxes, but she didn’t get involved until after the passing of her husband. “I had more time,” she explained. “I didn’t know what was involved, so I just started attending.”

The Helping Hands group is not just for members of St. Paul Lutheran Church. “Other ladies from other churches help with this, so it’s open to the community. We’ve got a real good group. We invite others, even if they don’t want to come every week,” Aufdenberg said.

The meetings are on Thursday mornings from 9 to 11 a.m. beginning in March and running through October.

Aufdenberg is also very involved in the Tilsit 4-H. Although her address is in Jackson, Aufdenberg lives about a mile and a half from Tilsit. She has been a leader in the Tilsit 4-H Club for 48 years, having served as a community leader, but more often as a project leader. In 2016, she was inducted into the 4-H Hall of Fame.

Twenty years ago, when her son first started in 4-H, the Tilsit 4-H Club began a community service project of making weighted vests for autistic children, and then switched to making weighted blankets and lap pads.

“In 20 years, we have made over 900 weighted blankets, and close to 800 lap pads. In the beginning, we did around 100 weighted vests. The club has been honored for this community service project,” she said.

Aufdenberg also helps care for her 94-year-old mother. She transports her to tai chi exercise classes. She doesn’t think she deserves any recognition for doing this. “It’s just family,” she explained. It’s no more than any loving daughter would do.

A couple of months after her husband died, Aufdenberg joined a GriefShare group at St. Paul Lutheran Church. It was difficult at first, but the program helped her with her grief. “I felt like it was a little soon for me after I started, but I just kept going,” she said.

“I felt the process of the lessons — and it’s a 13-week course — really helped.”

A new 13-week session began in January 2022 and Aufdenberg decided to go through the lessons again.

“Now they have asked me to help be one of the leaders of the group. So I’m slowly getting into that and helping a little with the leadership,” Audenberg said. “Now I’m attending again. And it’s a blessing. It’s a blessing when you can share the comfort and the help that you get from the program.”

Volunteering itself has rewards. Aufdenberg said joining Helping Hands, that small group of less than a dozen shoebox stuffers, has helped her develop new friendships.

“I think volunteering helps for everything,” she said.

“I really felt like I wasn’t deserving of a Hometown Hero Award, and then my daughter said, ‘Mom, it’s hard to get volunteers for anything,’” Aufdenberg said.

“Volunteering is good. It’s good for you and it’s good for whatever your cause is. I highly recommend it.”

Gregory Dullum has worked for The Cash-Book Journal for more than 25 years. Prior to becoming the editor in May 2017, he was production manager, circulation manager and reporter. Before moving to Cape Girardeau in 1988, he was editor of the Saint Louis Park Sailor, a weekly community newspaper in suburban Minneapolis, MN. A native of Minnesota, he returned there after graduating with distinction in 1978 from Ambassador College in Pasadena, CA, with a degree in mass communications. His wife, Marie, whom he met in college, is a native of Zalma, a small town in southeast Missouri. They have two grown daughters and five grandchildren. Gregory may be reached at cashbook@mvp.net.

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