This is the story of a crippled farm boy, poor times and readers who made a difference in his life.

That reader involvement exploded into an effort that helped and brightened the lives of hundreds of farm children and their families.

It was 1928, just before the Great Depression. Polio, in epidemic proportions, left children with wasted limbs and their parents with crippled finances.

One Midwestern farm boy was left unable to walk after the disease took its course. His parents, trying to make their farm income stretch as it was, were left further in debt, with no resources to help their child.

But they were not without hope. The father called on Walter Reeve Ramsey, consulting health editor on the state farm magazine, The Farmer. Ramsey, who founded the St. Paul, MN, Children's Hospital, in turn appealed to the magazine's editor.

His response: a story on the little boy's plight, asking readers to give a "helping hand."

Within three weeks, over $4,000 had been donated - an awesome amount by today's standards. Since the boy's needs only totaled $400 for hospital care and leg braces - and the rest couldn't be returned to so many contributors - the Helping Hand Club was begun.

As a result of that fund, many farm children came to Children's Hospital to have the medical and surgical care they would not otherwise have had. And Helping Hand Club, since its inception 70 years ago, has helped 688 children and their families.

This year, Helping Hand paid $1,596.51 for two farm children's hospital bills. By negotiating for hospital discounts and reduced bills, the club was able to save $432.78.

Contributions from readers this past year totaled $3,573.50, leaving an unused balance of $1,976.99.

So the club, now administrated by Soybean Digest, granted the above balance, plus club bequest funds to a total of $10,000, to go to the Children's Hospital Charitable Care Fund.

But what of the two children helped this year? Their stories are as follows. Only first names were used to protect family privacy. Need and expense records are on file at Soybean Digest.

Allison was hospitalized for three days with a virus and strep pneumonia at a local hospital. Five days after being discharged, she was taken to a city hospital and diagnosed with an infection of the blood. Insurance paid most of the local hospital bill, but the city hospital balance totaled $751.86. With a hospital discount of $112.78, Helping Hand paid $639.08.

Lance had a hearing impediment and needed surgery. This required six hospital outpatient visits involving ear testing and surgery. Although Lance's parents had health insurance, they still owed a balance of $1,277.43. The hospital discounted $191.61 and waived interest charges of $128.39. Helping Hand paid $957.43.

But to continue to help farm families, more reader contributions are needed. Soybean Digest pays all administration costs, so all reader contributions go either to pay hospital bills of farm children in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota or to help provide farm safety education.

If you know of any farm or ranch family hard-pressed to pay the hospital bills of their youngsters, 18 or younger, please write us.

Send your tax-deductible donations, or the names of families needing assistance, to: The Helping Hand Club, Webb Foundation, 7900 International Drive, Suite 300, Minneapolis, MN 55425.