The best ideas are those that are shared and spread around like stardust. That is what happened with local women’s group “The Larks” in 2020, right in the midst of pandemic restrictions that provided many challenges but inspired creative solutions. The group has spread magic all over Sauk Centre by helping many local businesses and organizations.
“A Twin Cities friend of mine had shared a news story about a group of women who met monthly and made donations to local organizations. They even established a garden and donated the produce to local food shelves,” said Sara Thompson.
After talking about the story with Brenda Jennissen last spring, the two thought it was something that would work in Sauk Centre. Thompson shared it on Facebook and “it was almost overwhelming, how many people responded,” she said. “So many people were excited about it.”
The challenge at that point was setting a cap on the number of people in the group.
“There were far more people than filled one group,” Thompson said. “The group needed to be a reasonable size to go into a business together. We wanted to be big enough to make an impact, but still be manageable.”
A private Facebook group was set up. The group size was set at 26. One day each month was chosen for meetings. Each member is responsible for one meeting, choosing the place where the group meets (and spends their dollars) as well as where the members’ $20 donations are given. Group housekeeping is minimal, with no committees and no bank account.
The first meeting was in September 2020. They have met at restaurants, a movie theater and a variety of local businesses.
“We get to inject some money into local businesses and get the benefits from hanging out together,” Thompson said.
Establishing the group came at a good time for members, personally, as well as the community.
“I like the focus of this group: Sauk Centre and supporting needs here,” said Jan Bromenschenkel.
“I really enjoyed our initial gathering. The women were very excited about the new group and it was lovely to sit outside on a late summer evening,” said Shelly Winters.
Every member has to commit to attending each meeting. However, there are times when an absence can’t be helped. In that case, there is a list of substitutes, so that there are always 26 people attending. That keeps the funds going to a local business at a steady level, and the donations are always $520. While $500 is given to local organizations or groups, the extra $20 often goes toward the waitress’s tip, if the group meets at a restaurant.
One month’s donations went to the Sauk Centre Police Department and included restaurant gift cards and cash. Another month, the donations were given to a local nursing home to cover its wish list for a new activity for the residents. Donations have also gone to the food shelf, to an assisted living facility and to support a private family that was experiencing extreme issues.
“I really loved getting the photos from the nursing home, showing the residents having fun with the supplies and games we were able to buy for them,” said Tiffany Anderson. “Knowing we were able to provide some fun was a really awesome feeling.”
“At the end of the year, we will have given back $6,000 to the community as well as supporting local businesses with our patronage,” Thompson said.
“’We are all in this together’ is a phrase we’ve heard a lot lately, and it’s true,” said Anderson. “It really does ‘take a village’ to help people thrive and sometimes to just survive. Knowing we are doing something good is a great feeling.”
“I love that we have a scheduled day together and are just told where to show up. As a busy, working mom, it feels like ‘me time,’” said Abby Henderson. “The hardest part for me is not getting to talk to everyone; there isn’t enough time in one night. So I just try to sit next to a different person the next month. It is truly a blessing to call all of these ladies my friends.”
“We’re all loving it because we enjoy each other’s company and we love our community. We foresee this going on for years to come,” Thompson said. “It would be wonderful to learn that other people have started groups like this in other communities.”