Help and Hearts for Japan

japanHow can I help?” is what many people asked after hearing the news of the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11. In the wake of the devastation, Rochester area community members and organizations are giving of their time, energy, financial resources—and their hearts—to help the people in Japan.


The Rochester Area Family YMCA donated to the Japan YMCA Relief Fund with funds raised through its Zumbathon® Charity Event. Zumba is a popular fitness routine influenced by Latin dance.

    “We thought that we should do something that would encourage our members to be healthy and active while having fun and benefiting someone else,” says Robin Hoelzle, group fitness instructor and group fitness coordinator. “In the Y organization, there is always a sense of community and looking out for each other.”  

    With help from successful events like this, the Japanese YMCAs are providing survivors with basic needs and services in several hard-hit areas.

Winona helps a sister city

The city of Winona has a close connection with Misato, Japan, which was severely shaken by
the earthquake.

    “Our sister city relationship—through the Winona/Misato Friendship Association—has been going on for 14 years, and for 10 years, we have sent students to Misato as ambassadors,” says Joseph Lepley, who teaches special education at Winona Middle School and is involved with the student exchange program. “The earthquake struck Misato hard.”

    Winona community members, including Lepley and Chandu Valluri, assistant professor of marketing and international business at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota and a member of the Winona Sunset Lions, formed a taskforce to support the relief efforts. Bead Kerr was a significant student participant and chair of the impromptu group, and Pam Caldwell, president of the River Town Lions Club for women, organized and scheduled the collection points. They raised donations at the university and around the city through collection jars, the sale of wristbands, t-shirts and student meal donations.

    A Celebrate Japan cultural event included a Skype call to Misato, Japanese cuisine, live music, poetry readings and origami, Reiki and martial arts demonstrations. Volunteers donated their time and talent.

    “The whole citywide effort was put together and implemented in a month’s time,” says Valluri. “Hopefully our story will inspire others to do the same, similar or different initiatives. This campaign was really about our sense of community and our ability to come together for a common cause.”

Hygiene kits and other efforts

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, with five congregations in Rochester, donated 563 personal hygiene kits containing hand towels, soap, toothpaste, toothbrushes and combs. “The kits were sent to a humanitarian center in Salt Lake City, Utah, for distribution,” says Linda Redlin, president of the church’s Relief Society.

    Meanwhile, area high schools students are spearheading fundraising events, such as a dance, raffle, benefit concert and a walk. Proceeds from the Sake for the Quake walk at Silver Lake Park in May went to the American Red Cross.

    And local school classes collected change for relief in Japan. Pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters add up and are needed and appreciated in Japan.

    These are just a few of the good things the Rochester area is doing to support relief in the Land of the Rising Sun. And no matter how big or small the effort is, it will help Japan recover—and the sun will shine bright again.

How you can help

You can support relief efforts for disasters:
• Coordinate or volunteer at a local
    fundraising activity, such as a garage sale,
    bake sale or dance-a-thon. Find ideas at
• Participate in a local fundraiser, such as a
    walk, run or dance.
• Learn more about disaster-relief efforts,
    such as these:,,,,
• Donate to a disaster-relief organization.
• Give blood.

Trish Amundson is a Rochester-area freelance writer and employee of Mayo Clinic. Her heart goes out to the people of Japan, as well as victims in Joplin, Mo., north Minneapolis and other disaster-stricken areas.