A conduit for community kindness: Mathis is 'Enspired' to help
“The whole community came together, and we were able to contribute thousands of dollars and so much food and love and support, just off one social media post. And everyone is better for it.”
WINDOM — When a mid-March snowstorm shut down every highway in southwest Minnesota a couple of weeks ago, Hilary Mathis asked a simple question on Facebook: What happens to all of the motorists stranded in Windom?
The answer was equally simple — the Business, Arts & Recreation Center would be opened as a shelter, and people could stop there until the weather cleared up and they could safely get back on the road.
More than a dozen people were already at the BARC when Mathis put out a call to her friends in Windom, asking for pillows and blankets for the BARC travelers. And as Mathis knew they would, the residents of Windom came together to care for their 52 stranded visitors, bringing in three tables of food, drinks, personal hygiene supplies, cards, puzzles, piles of blankets and pillows.
It was truly a community effort — and one of many examples of Mathis’ efforts to serve as a conduit, bringing people together and channeling their efforts into a powerful force for good.
Many of her projects begin at her store in downtown Windom, Enspired, which offers a wide variety of items, including artwork, jewelry, honey, soaps, lotions, candles, wax melts, teas, food, books, crystals, greeting cards and decor. Much of it is locally-made, including Mathis’ own product lines.
She opened the boutique in October of 2011, with no background in sales or retail. It wasn’t always easy, but she learned the ropes, developed her own product line and forged the shop into a place not just for buying and selling, but for people.
“A lot of the efforts that I have been involved in happen through this place,” Mathis said. “It’s a connecting point.”
The effort to help the stranded motorists was just one of many times she’s brought people together to help others. It’s an excellent example of how she likes to do that, too — a short-term, high-impact project that involves contributions from a diverse group of local people who care, often including other organizers and groups coordinating together.
Mathis herself often isn’t even technically part of those groups — she’ll just put out a post or two asking for help and letting people know how they can.
Sometimes Enspired serves as a drop-off point for donations. Lately, it’s also served as a home for Randy, a golden-eyed white-and-orange cat from the Cottonwood County Animal Rescue, and before him, a ginger tabby named Barry. Both were quickly adopted, and Mathis intends to keep bringing in foster cats now that Randy has a family.
“You have to have a lit fire to keep going in small business, especially lately. And all these community efforts have been that lit fire,” Mathis said.
Her family is often involved as well, from her husband, Bryce, to her kids, Ethan, Evan, Eli, Eja and Evelyn.
Every year at Christmas, Mathis and two friends, Esperanza Esquivel and Lynn Ortmann, do a holiday project together. Mathis writes just one post on Facebook asking for participants to donate funds, letting everyone know they will never know who their funds go to, what they go for or receive any credit for donating them.
Then the three leaders identify a family in need, connect with them and tell them they want to help. Last year, recipients got $2,500 in gift cards for food, gas and clothing using those donations, and everyone in the family also got a feel-good gift.
“All of these people contributed to this unofficial cause. We’re not linked to any big group. It’s unofficial efforts that have a really big effect,” Mathis said.
She emphasized that it’s the group effort that’s important, pointing out that she’s just using her gift for connecting with others on social media for good causes. It’s a simple process of identifying a need, helping address it and moving on to the next need, Mathis said.
That process has repeated itself multiple times, with Mathis spearheading an effort to purchase a new e-bike for a local person whose bike was stolen — a drive that took less than 24 hours to raise enough for a new e-bike, an extra battery and a new lock.
“It wasn’t me. I just spread the word about it because I wanted to help,” Mathis said. “I’m not doing all these fantastic things by myself.”
Another of her projects happened after a fatal car crash, in which a man was killed and his daughter severely burned. Mathis intended to bring over a card with a little money in it for the family, and offered to help the family too. Learning they had company coming for the funeral, she asked for help on Facebook, and Enspire’s back room quickly filled with food and supplies for the visitors.
“It’s unbelievable what people brought in, and they were so thoughtful,” Mathis said. “The whole community came together, and we were able to contribute thousands of dollars and so much food and love and support, just off one social media post. And everyone is better for it.”
Another project came when a boy born with a heart defect became ill as a teenager. Mathis worked with the local Lions Club to organize a pancake breakfast and raise money for the boy’s family, eventually gathering $17,000 to help them with the expensive medical bills.
“That was very much a group effort,” Mathis said.
Even the group Mathis belongs to, the Jamie Torkelson Fallen Biker Memorial Run, for family and friends of her fallen cousin, comes together for a bike run, a raffle and a party, to raise money for the Windom Youth Hockey Association.
“It’s a community effort,” Mathis said. “Here’s the need: can we fill it?”
Mathis received 49 nominations in The Globe's Community Pride project, with all of the individuals sharing stories of Mathis inspiring people in her community of Windom to help others. She was referred to as a bright light in the community, an angel, an exceptional voice for the community, and the person with the biggest heart.