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Column: People in need have lots of 'Friends' - and friends - here

Last Saturday I was fortunate to attend the Friends of Friends charity event in Ottertail, a benefit to raise money for the fight against hunger in Otter Tail County.

That same night in Perham, a benefit was being held for Stefanie Hurt and Stephen Doll, a local father and daughter who are both fighting cancer.

By all accounts, both events were wildly successful - raising more money than expected, and very well attended.

Since moving here about six months ago, I've been struck by the willingness of the Perham, Ottertail, New York Mills and surrounding communities to come together in support of people and causes that are dear to them. It's a quality I've seen in other rural areas and small towns, but never to this degree.

The events of this past Saturday were only two of the many, many examples of the good things that people do for each other in this area.

If I could have been in two places at once, I would have loved to experience the Hurt/Doll fundraiser for myself. I've heard it was a blast - with more than 800 people showing up to support the new young mother and her dad.

The show of support in Ottertail was also impressive.

Throughout last year, Friends of Friends raised more than $82,000 in their fight against hunger, much of that through the dinner, which is their largest fundraiser.

This year they're hoping to raise even more money, and if the results of Saturday night are any indication, they're well on their way. Though numbers hadn't been finalized yet, organizers were saying late Saturday that "we did even better than last year."

I wasn't surprised to hear that. The generosity I saw Saturday was unlike any I've seen before.

Everyone in the room had already made a contribution just by purchasing a ticket, yet that didn't stop most of them from making additional donations. Many bid on silent auction items, while plenty of others didn't hesitate to keep bidding up on the live auction items (the highest bid of the night went to a signed NDSU football helmet, for more than $1,800).

But the highlight of the evening, for me, was what came after the live auction - a chance for people to pledge money directly to a local child in need. There was no material reward in this for anybody; no new toy or trinket to take home - just the reward of knowing that you've helped make someone's life a little better.

Dozens of people couldn't wait to raise their hands for this, doling out hundreds of dollars apiece to ensure that kids would not go hungry in the coming year. It was moving to look around the room and see all those hands in the air, volunteering to give. People waiting on the edge of their seats for their turns to make a donation.

I sensed no pressure in the room to give - people just did so because they wanted to.

I learned later that the same sort of thing was happening over in Perham on that same night, for Stefanie and Stephen.

It's comforting to know that those in need have plenty of friends, and Friends of Friends, around.