It started with a broken heart. On March 18, when Rena Larsen saw business after business shutting down in response to the Governor’s social distancing directive, her heart sank. How will they survive, she wondered. All those hard-working mom and pop stores and restaurants that we all love, and who count on the community’s continued support to pay their bills and keep their employees paid. It weighed on her, and kept her up that night. The next day, she realized that doing nothing was not an option, dried her tired eyes, and devised a plan.
In the span of a few short hours, Larsen lined up a Visionary/Advisory Board, filled out paperwork, opened accounts, and launched Skagit Attitudes of Gratitude, a non-profit dedicated to providing financial support to locally-owned small businesses and restaurants, and rewarding local COVID-19 front line workers with the purchases. “It’s just a really simple idea,” Larsen explained. “One person buying a cup of coffee helps a local coffee shop a little bit, but 50 people buying coffee helps a lot. I thought that if I could somehow crowd source some revenue for the stores and shops, that would be a tremendous boost for them. And then I thought about where those 50 cups of coffee could go, and immediately knew the answer: To reward all the people locally who are working the front lines – medical workers, grocery staff, delivery people. It was a perfect, natural fit. It made sense. Our tagline says it all, ‘Where community comes full circle’.”
Since launching on Facebook (Skagit Attitudes of Gratitude) on March 19, their followers have grown to over 550 people, and donations totaling several thousand dollars have come from all over. Larsen and her all-volunteer Visionary/Advisory Board run the page and field nominations from the community, whoare encouraged to nominate locally–owned businesses they would like to see receive financial support, front line workers who deserve a treat, or both. Recent donation “matches” include flower baskets purchased at Melody’s Flowers and More, located in Burlington, which were donated to every postal worker at the Burlington postal facility. Coffee and pastries purchased at Ristretto Coffee Lounge and Wine Bar and donated to the staff at Family Care Network/North Cascade Family Physicians. Last week, Skagit Attitudes of Gratitude helped fund pizzas purchased at Coconut Kenny’s and donated to United General Hospital.
Mike (“Mike in the Morning”) Yeoman, who works at KAPS Country Radio, and David Bricka, program director at Country Meadow Village in Sedro-Woolley, are two of the volunteer board members whose duties have also recently included floral deliveries. “What a great morning,” Bricka enthused. “It was awesome to see the smiles from the postal employees when they realized the flowers were for them,” agreed Yeoman. Both men agreed to join Skagit Attitudes of Gratitude because they loved the idea of facilitating a community of kindness. “Rena had the idea and made it happen,” Yeoman said, “she made it easy to say yes.”
Larsen, a bus driver for the Mount Vernon School District, is no stranger to community service. She has close ties to the Helping Hands Foodbank and can often be found using social media to round up support for any number of local friends in need. As her idea took shape, she reached out to some of the other “helpers” she’s partnered with over the years to organize support for the Foodbank, gather necessities for the less fortunate, and help a needy child here and there. “I knew who to ask,” Larsen says, “because I know the other people who are always showing up in the community.” Board member Megan Scott O’Bryan (Windermere Real Estate) explained, “When Rena approached us with the idea, it just made sense. Here was an opportunity to both support locally-owned businesses, who are struggling right now, and reward the tireless work of the people on the front lines during this epidemic. It’s a simple, elegant model – it’s really just crowd-sourcing kindness on a community level, and we’re honored to help facilitate that.” Other board members are Indira Rouw Wagenbach (Rouw Insurance), and Renata Hoyle Maybruck (HopeWorks Social Enterprises). Wagenbachsummed it up, “Skagit Attitudes of Gratitude is a great reminder that we are better, and stronger, when we work together.” Maybruck added, “Exactly. We can’t fix what’s going on in the world, but we can help our community get through it.”
For more information, you can reach Skagit Attitudes of Gratitude on Facebook, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .