Katie Klemenhagen's life was changed while attending an event that featured Pastor Alan Ross from Scotland, who has been traveling the world as a prophetic voice for nearly 20 years. Ross is also known as the "In House Prophet" at Living Waters Church in Elk River, a position he has held since 1999.
"He picked me out of the crowd and placed his hand on me," she said, adding that he told her she had a calling for mission work, something she has always had a heart for. "When I left the event, I was shook. He nailed it. That night, I woke up crying because I knew this is what God wanted me to do."
That night in 2015 is when Klemenhagen, 33, a mother of five from Brandon, founded Kare Packs.
Kare Packs is the name she uses for her mission work. She fills bags/backpacks with donated and purchased items such as socks, toothpaste, toothbrushes, baby wipes, cotton swabs, razors, soaps, snacks and more to deliver to homeless people in the Twin Cities metro area - specifically what is known as "Tent City," which she said is populated with mostly Native Americans.
When delivering items to Tent City, Klemenhagen often brings along her oldest daughter, 14-year-old Kyla. Her other children - Kaleiyah, 9, Kemyia, 7, Mykah, 5, and Tommy, 1 - help with packing items, but don't go along on the trips.
"This is our time together," she said of their mother-daughter trips. "She knows what to do and if there comes a time I can't do this, I am sure she will continue it for me."
Klemenhagen said she knows the work she is doing is a "God thing" and she feels safe. The people she helps are "people just like us," and she said many are dealing with mental health issues and haven't received the care they need. She said they are not all drug addicts, which is the preconceived notion most people have of the homeless.
Klemenhagen cares about them and just wants to help and offer whatever support she can. The people she gives her Kare Packs to are very thankful and appreciative, she said.
She recalled a time when she brought more than just Kare Packs to Tent City. She happened to have winter coats and was offering one to a gentleman who refused to take it unless he could donate his coat to someone else in need.
"He didn't want to feel like he was taking, he wanted to feel like he was giving," she said. "So many of these people are embarrassed and don't want to take handouts because they do have their dignity. They want to help others, too."
In the beginning
After her encounter with Pastor Ross, Klemenhagen said she had a "fire under her butt" and wanted to get started. She took some gallon baggies, filled them with a few items, and then she drove around in St. Cloud and the Twin Cities with her daughter, handing them out.
"The people were so appreciative of these bags," she said.
From there, she started collecting items through donations, as well as purchasing things at garage sales. She also posted on sell-its on Facebook, and started her own Facebook page, Kare Packs.
"I have been amazed by the generosity of this community," she said, adding that she is surprised at the donations she still receives after three years of doing Kare Packs. "I have a few regular donors who have been giving regularly for the past three years. It's just so amazing."
She said church groups and 4-H groups as well as several businesses have helped out and she couldn't be more thankful.
"When the community stops donating, then that will be a sign that God wants me to do something else," she said.
Over the past three years, Klemenhagen said she tries to get to the metro area to hand out bags every week if she can. During the winter months, however, it all depends on the weather.
Her goal when she started was to hand out at least 500 Kare Packs. She has surpassed that goal multiple times over, and to date has handed out close to 6,000.
"I don't care if I am only known as Kare Packs," she said, noting that is the name many of the people call her when she brings them the bags. As she is walking around handing out bags, Klemenhagen often hears, "Here comes Kare Packs," and that it warms her heart.
What it means to her
Being able to give back and help the homeless means so much to Klemenhagen. As her eyes welled up with tears, she explained that her past life was one filled with not-so-great choices and that she could have just as easily found herself out on the streets. She called herself the black sheep of her family and that because of her past mistakes and choices, she wasn't expected to amount to much.
But she has turned her life around and recently moved into a new home in Brandon with her fiance, BJ Studway III, and their five children, and her family is finally proud of her.
"This (Kare Packs) is in our blood. I don't want to stop," she said. "This is my thing. I am blessed to be able to do this. I get my 'feel goods' from giving and I couldn't do what I do without the support from the community."
Kare Packs has changed Klemenhagen's life in such a positive way, she said.
"Just as much as these people need me, I need them," she said as more tears fell and a large smile spread across her face.