Through reader donations, Helping Hand Club has helped farm children and their parents for over 71 years.

This year, five children's hospital bills will have been reduced or paid for with aid from Helping Hand Club.

What's Helping Hand? It's a non-profit organization, supported solely through this magazine's readers, that helps pay hospital bills of farm children. Administrative costs are paid by Soybean Digest, so all reader gifts go to help farm children 18 years old or younger. To be eligible, parents or guardians must farm for a living in Minnesota, North Dakota or South Dakota.

But to keep the program thriving, tax-deductible donations are needed. Although limited funds are available from past bequests, all 1999 gifts have been used to help pay hospital bills.

There's another need: To get the word out that Helping Hand may be able to come to the aid of a financially stressed family with the added stress of a sick or injured child. If you know of a farm family in this situation, or wish to donate a tax-deductible gift, please write The Helping Hand Club, Webb Foundation, 7900 International Drive, Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55425.

Currently, the Club is helping Brenda, age 12, who was given permission and instruction on how to ride a dirt bike. She was told to first drive in a hayfield.

But she got too close to a barbed-wire fence and cut herself on all five wires. The cuts were on her abdomen, ankles and most severely on her legs. She was rushed by ambulance to the hospital, had surgery and was hospitalized for two days.

Brenda now needs continuous physical therapy. The hospital bill was $4,839.30. The insurance company has not yet remitted payment. When it's received, Helping Hand will negotiate for a discount and approve payment of the balance due. There is also an outstanding bill of $825.35.

>From November 1998 through October 1999, Helping Hand paid $13,049.41 in hospital bills for four farm children. By negotiating with hospitals for discounts and reduced bills, Helping Hand was able to save $1,867.98. Contributions totaled $3,105.80.

Helping Hand used $9,943.61 from held-over bequest funds because there weren't enough contributions to cover all hospital bills.

Circumstances and hospitalization costs of the four children are as follows. Only first names were used to protect family privacy. Need and expense records are on file at Soybean Digest.

Alice, two years old, was hospitalized for eight days with RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), a blocked lung and low oxygen. A $1,000 insurance deductible left a balance due of $783.95. With a waiver of $9.70 in interest charges and a 15% discount of $116.13, Helping Hand paid $658.12.

Chase, at 17 months, was also hospitalized with RSV for a stay of two nights and three days, requiring IVs and breathing treatments. With no medical insurance, his parents were faced with a $2,355.45 hospital bill. The hospital approved a 15% discount of $353.32; Helping Hand paid the balance due of $2,002.13.

Scott was born five weeks early, not breathing on his own. He spent six days in intensive care, on IVs for food intake. The $9,258.93 hospital bill wasn't covered by insurance. With a hospital-approved 15% discount of $1,388.83, Helping Hand paid the $7,870.10 balance.

Alana, nine years old, had two extra teeth above her permanent teeth and needed oral surgery. The bill totaled $762.37. Insurance paid $255.55; Helping Hand paid the $506.82 balance. No hospital discount was given.

She later had to have her tonsils and adenoids out. Her parents had bought health insurance, but the surgery wasn't covered, since it was before the six-month policy exemption. The Club paid the $2,012.24 bill. No hospital discount was given.