ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Willmar area Facebook group grew out of pandemic, continues to help families with advice, donations

It was just what was needed at the beginning of the pandemic, even though few knew it at the time. It's still needed now. The It Takes a Village — Willmar Facebook group has helped people get help, look for advice and find lost pets.

Two hands with fingers touching
The logo for the It Takes a Village — Willmar Facebook group, which started at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 and still remains active in the community two years later.
Contributed / West Central Tribune
We are part of The Trust Project.

WILLMAR — People in the Willmar area may not have realized they needed something like the Facebook group It Takes a Village — Willmar until it was here.

The group launched in March 2020 just as many parts of the community were closing down at the beginning of a global pandemic.

Since it started, the group of 6,100 area residents has shown a caring and generous side in the community. It was always there, but the Facebook group brought that spirit into the open.

photo of smiling woman
Renee Bart, founder of It Takes a Village - Willmar

Renee Bart, a relative newcomer to the Willmar community, started the group in 2020 as a way for people to help each other at a time of shortages and uncertainty.

“I was hoping to find a centralized place for people to post their needs and resources in the community as things might be getting hard in the near future — no such luck,” Bart, 30, wrote in her first post on the group. “So, if the impending health crisis means your family is now in need of some extra support, you have some resources to share, or you see something in the community that could help, your posts are welcome here.”

ADVERTISEMENT

It was 10 years ago today that we left California and headed here to Minnesota. Best thing ever! I love the fact that Willmar is a great community that loves and cares for its people. After my hubby had his stroke back in 2014, so many offered to help us out. Then when he passed away 2 years ago, again, the people here stepped up and helped me out. It’s still so hard for me to grasp he’s gone, yet, the friends I’ve made here in Willmar are there for me. I love Willmar, and this group has shown that all you have to do is ask. Everyone helps everyone.
Carol Small, member and administrator of It Takes a Village - Willmar Facebook group

At first, the group was a way for people to find face masks, canning jars, toilet paper and other items in short supply. Restaurants and other businesses used it to tell people when they were reopening.

Over time it has helped members find someone willing to help move furniture and become a go-to source for finding lost pets.

Need advice on hiring a handyman? Want to know if a contractor does good work? Not sure how to get your kids registered for school or find school supply lists? Someone in the group will probably be able to help.

text on a bright yellow background
Requests like this can be found on the It Takes a Village — Willmar group on Facebook. They usually draw numerous responses from people offering furniture and household goods.
Contributed / West Central Tribune

Advice and offers of help can pile up quickly when someone asks a question. Sometimes the first response shows up in minutes.

Related:
There is a pronounced need for more dental providers in Southeast Minnesota's rural towns, many of which don't even have a dental clinic. The challenge: getting graduates to go there.
Single-digit temperatures couldn't deter the masses from voluntarily jumping into a frozen lake Saturday in the name of fundraising for Special Olympics at the annual Spicer WinterFest.
Nonprofit hospitals are required to provide free or discounted care, also known as charity care; yet eligibility and application requirements vary across hospitals. Could you qualify? We found out.
The letter writer believe citizens should demand that our state and federal representatives and senators work on permitting the building of more coal, gas and nuclear power plants resulting in lower energy costs.

Posts remind people of food distributions or community center events.

Posts about missing pets or found pets are frequent. So are posts about stolen bikes. Pets are frequently found. Bikes are found, too, but not as often.

The generosity in the community can be impressive. Several people will offer a ride to St. Cloud when someone asks for it.

If someone posts about a family starting over from scratch and needing everything for a new home, offers of beds, dressers and tables are numerous.

ADVERTISEMENT

A discussion about the best school supplies can grow to dozens of posts.

People in all stages in life use the site. A woman of limited means seeks some help in finding work-appropriate clothing to wear to her new job. A mom wants to know who might have a paying job for her 14-year-old.

We moved to Willmar just over two years ago and knew no one. I stumbled across this Facebook group and found incredible service opportunities in Willmar. As a result of that service I've felt connected to the community of Willmar as a whole and met some amazing people that I now call my friends.
Jacob and Sarah Miller, members of the It Takes a Village Facebook group

To someone asking for large rocks for their garden, a reply included a photo of a farm’s rockpile. Come on over, the post said, and if you want more, you can pick up more in the pasture.

vegetables and flowers on display at a farmer's market
Farmers markets in the area post photos and reminders on the It Takes a Village — Willmar group page on Facebook.
Contributed / West Central Tribune

“It’s been cool to watch it kind of grow and develop into its own thing,” Bart said. She had moved to Willmar for a job several years ago. During the pandemic she started a graduate program online and has since moved back to her hometown of Albertville. She is pursuing her license in alcohol and drug counseling.

Even after moving to Albertville, she has continued to be one of the moderators. She also moderates a Buy Nothing group in Albertville.

As the group grew and expanded from the original purpose, she has added moderators to help keep up with the volume of traffic.

More from LINDA VANDERWERF
Retiring president of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce Ken Warner says he has enjoyed his time working for the Willmar business community.
The daily average of confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota jumped from a 378-case daily average to 760 cases a day in one week. Deaths have also increased to a daily average of 11 deaths a day.
Retiring president of the Willmar Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce Ken Warner says he has enjoyed his time working for the Willmar business community.
COVID-19 isn't gone in Minnesota, but hospitalizations and deaths are lower in the latest state update. About 120 fewer people were in hospitals this week than in the week before.
The state reported an average of 500 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 per day last week and an average of nine deaths per day. The case average was lower, but the average daily deaths was higher.
Breaking News
Prosecution errors freed Thomas Rhodes from prison and overturned his murder convictions Friday. A memo found in the prosecution's files last year contributed to his release.
People who have symptoms or have been exposed to someone with symptoms should get tested for COVID-19. Minnesota is ready to send four free tests for anyone who wants them.
Falling enrollment for Willmar Public Schools is likely to lead to budget cuts before the start of the 2023-24 school year. The School Board began the process with adopting a resolution Monday night.
A drop in enrollment is leading the Willmar School Board to ask its administrators to look at ways to reduce spending for the next school year.
What happens when the state of Minnesota allows only five e-learning days and some schools have used their last one in the first week of January? It could lead to some old-fashioned snow days.

When she wondered if the group should continue recently, she asked the group if anyone would be interested in becoming moderators. “I had tons of people say how much the group has impacted their lives and would be willing to help in whatever capacity they could,” she said.

Bart said she’s not aware of another group quite like it. The area has many sell/swap groups and groups that post free items. None of them seem to offer what It Takes a Village does.

ADVERTISEMENT

White cat with black patches and tail
Milo the cat snuck out of his Willmar home in September. With his photo on the It Takes a Village — Facebook group page, he was found and returned home.
Contributed / West Central Tribune

“When I talk to people, there’s nothing quite like this group in the community,” she said. “Now that I’ve moved, there’s nothing quite like the It Takes a Village group down here. ... It’s a cool concept to have in a community.”

Bart, 30, seems a little surprised herself at how the group has evolved.

If she wanted to start one somewhere else, “I don’t even know how I would go about doing that, because it came about so organically.”

Another feature of It Takes a Village — Willmar is its lack of political comment.

“When we started, the only rule or expectation I had for people was to be kind,” Bart said.

Small black and tan dog
This so-scruffy-he's-cute dog was lost last summer and found after his photo was posted on Facebook, including on the It Takes a Village — Willmar Facebook group.
Contributed / West Central Tribune

Early on, she said, she called the group a no-judgment zone, and her attitude was “the world is crazy right now, we don’t need another space to be judgmental, we don’t need to be putting people down; we need to be supportive of each other.”

A handful of people who couldn’t follow the rule to be kind are no longer welcome in the group, she said.

Facebook has filters that have helped moderators catch certain words or block outside websites, and they have helped.

“My philosophy with groups in general is it’s not for everybody,” she said. “The space is unique to the people it serves, and sometimes it’s not a good fit.”

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: lvanderwerf@wctrib.com or phone 320-214-4340
What To Read Next
A 19-year-old Montevideo man was taken to St. Cloud Hospital Friday morning following a crash in which he was a passenger.
A 19-year-old Willmar woman was transported to CentraCare — Rice Memorial Hospital after the vehicle she was driving crashed with a semi on Minnesota Highway 7 in East Lake Lillian Township.
Minneapolis artist Gregory Rose in a visit to Willmar shared how art can be a way to confront trauma, build community and look different at the world.
A Netherlands-based business is looking to build a hemp processing facility in Kandiyohi County or the region. There could also be an opportunity for farmers to plant a hemp crop this season for the company.