The idea was hatched in a Bible-study group at Peter & Annie’s, a coffee shop in Cumberland. Vickie Komarek, the owner, was going to be closing because the building in which she had operated for many years was for sale, and she was thinking about looking for a different downtown location.
But it would take money to move and equip another place. So the dozen or so guys who met every Tuesday at the coffee shop talked about forming an organization that could provide grants to businesses like Vickie’s who needed a little help. In spring 2020, with the pandemic raging and creating challenges for local shops and restaurants, retired financial consultant E. Dennis Zahrbock created 50 People (and more) Who Care.
The idea was that members would kick in $100 each quarter to fund grants to businesses that apply, present their needs and plans to the group in a short video. The winner would receive the money raised, no strings attached.
The group got 50 members within a few months, which meant the first winner, Island City Food Co-op, got a little more than $5,000.
In another few months, the group added 20 more members, yielding about $7,000 for the Five O’ Clock Club, a local supper club that had to shut down during the pandemic.
As of this writing, less than a year after forming, the membership is up to 104 men and women who will be providing a $10,000 check to Bistro 63, the next business chosen by a vote of the people who have joined.
Those people range from longtime local residents, to former residents, to the “cabin people” who increase Cumberland’s population to about 6,000 in summer as people flock from the Twin Cities to Cumberland-area lakes.
The group attracted television journalists from Eau Clare and Minneapolis, where the stories appeared on news programs that trumpeted a novel way to help small-town small businesses during the pandemic-induced recession. Zahrbock’s daughter, Lori, created a Facebook page, and a member who lives in Texas built a website (50peoplewhocare.org).
Zahrbock thinks chapters of 50 People could be created in any town and is willing to provide information to anyone interested in duplicating the Cumberland group. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ironically, even though the group began with the idea of keeping the coffee shop in business, Peter & Annie’s has not received one of the first three grants, but the voting was close. Komerek has been one of three finalists each time, and she has moved to a new location, but others were chosen by a vote of the 50 Who Care members.
The third grant, of $10,400, went to Bistro 63, a Cumberland-area upscale restaurant that needs a new roof.
Peter & Annie’s is eligible to apply again.