On an average day, Karen Eian can be found in her Mahtomedi backyard garden, visiting White Bear Lake city landmarks or peering into dead logs at Katherine Abbott Park for puffball mushrooms. Every new place is a potential opportunity to appreciate the little things, bring people together and to provide help to those who need it most.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, Eian has raised about $2,000 for the White Bear Lake Area Food Shelf by selling her homemade notecards, which feature photographs she has taken around the White Bear Lake community. 

During the early days of the pandemic, Eian wanted to spread a little joy by sharing photos daily with a group of friends through text messages. The idea came from a book she’d read called “Striped Bears and Polka Dots: The Art of Being Happy,” by painter Kirsten Sevig. 

Eian is now retired, but previously worked for the White Bear Lake school district, where she was the activities director of the senior citizens program, and worked in the media center at North Campus and the guidance office at South Campus. 

The project encouraged Eian to get outdoors and explore the White Bear Lake community, as well as local parks and other landmarks such as the Como Conservatory, more closely than she ever had before. She recalled being wowed by the incredible scenery when the whole region was coated in rime frost in early January.

“We had such wonderful weather when we’ve been tucked away with nothing to do; I got some wonderful close-ups of trees with great frost on them,” Eian said. She started posting her photos in the Facebook group, “You know you are from White Bear if …” The response was overwhelming positive, especially from people who had moved away from the community and wanted to reminisce about their hometown. 

Eian started off a game within the group, where she would take a photo of some place around town and invite group members to guess where it was.

“I learned a whole lot of new things,” Eian said. “I had so many good comments from people who don’t live here anymore, and I’ve found a bunch of new places in the community.” 

The popularity of her images led her to create notecards, which she began selling for $2 apiece or six for $10, all to benefit the food shelf. 

Eventually, a pastor at her church, Christ the King Lutheran, asked if she’d be interested in putting the photos together in a devotional book meant to honor those who serve in essential jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic. The books were printed and sold for $20 apiece, which along with the postcards raised about $2,000 for the food shelf.

All of Eian’s photos are taken with her smartphone, and she plans to do notecard fundraisers at least once a year. Right now, her project is focused on newly emerging mushrooms and spectacular spring blooms. Most of all, she hopes the notecard project is something that can help her stay connected with her grandchildren, both through handwritten cards and through outdoor adventures together.

“There’s so many great blessings out there in nature,” she said. “The smallest things are so interesting. You don’t have to go very far, you just have to keep your eyes open.”

Anyone interested in purchasing the cards or devotional books to support the food shelf can contact Karen Eian at kaeian@usfamily.net. 

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