MONROE — As Wisconsin and the world were told to begin social distancing and staying home in order to stem the growth of COVID-19, some area women still found a way to touch the hearts of their friends — and even some strangers.
“My friend Kelly Damron got the idea from her family who was participating in a similar group in northern Wisconsin. There are also several groups on Facebook,” said Stephanie King, one of the administrators of the local Green County “Get Wined” Facebook page. Tracey Chugg is the third administrator.
King said the group started with just a few friends before the numbers began to rapidly grow.
“We were hoping to do something smaller and local, so we started the Green County group. It really exploded,” she said. “At one point we had over 1,000 people pending to join the group and had over 500 in the group.”
The concept, King said, was simple. Once in the group, users could create a post about themselves, which would in turn become an agreement to become part of the gifting chain. The post would include their favorite wine or alcoholic beverage, to eventually be purchased and delivered by someone in the group.
“It was intended to be a random act of kindness. You drop your package off at someone’s front door, ring the door bell and run. It was up to the gifter if they wanted to share the identity or keep it private,” King said. “There were a couple of great things about the exchange. First it allowed our community to feel connected during a time we were encouraged to physically distance. It still allowed for social distancing but offered that needed connection.”
Many people received more than one gift package. Kari Leuzinger of Monroe was gifted twice within three days.
“Oh my gosh. (It is) so much fun,” Leuzinger said. “My go-to wine is Moscato.”
Brianna Engeli, a Monroe Clinic nurse, received multiple packages as well, and returned the favor some more, gifting five people — four adults and one child.
“I got ‘wined’ four times. Someone even included bubbles and chalk for the boys and a little truck,” said Engeli, who has two sons under age 2. “It was a lot of fun putting baskets together for people that I didn’t know in hopes to try to brighten someone’s day. … (It) made a lot of us feel like we were kids again — getting a little rush trying to be sneaky.”
It was intended to be a random act of kindness. You drop your package off at someone’s front door, ring the door bell and run. It was up to the gifter if they wanted to share the identity or keep it private. There were a couple of great things about the exchange. First it allowed our community to feel connected during a time we were encouraged to physically distance. It still allowed for social distancing but offered that needed connection.Stephanie King
One of those who left Engeli gifts was her neighbor, Queena Voegeli, who was also the recipient of kindness from others. “That stinker did get me,” Engeli said with a laugh. “People really went all out, which I feel like we all knew it wasn’t necessary to do but it was just so fun you couldn’t help but go all out.”
Chugg said the wine group has been “so fun.”
“Giving baskets is probably more fun than getting one. Women in the group came together to support each other and extend friendship,” Chugg said. “I think the beautiful part has been seeing how generous people have been with one another. Some of these ladies were strangers to each other.”
Heather Purcell, a 4K teacher at Monroe Preschool, said that during the school shutdown she began to miss her students, and decided that there should be a “Get Wined” version aimed for children also looking to connect.
“My whole life is kids. The best thing in the world is to see a smile on a kid’s face, and they really need it right now,” Purcell said. “We’re also showing kids it’s not always about being gifted, it’s bringing smiles to other people’s face.”
Purcell’s Facebook group, “Spread Kindness (for the kids) of Green County, WI” was made to help spread cheer up the “littles during the COVID crisis.” It now has more than 425 members. She sought the help of longtime friend Amanda Hirsch, who is the leader of the local chapter of Box of Balloons.
“It’s not just for little kids, it’s open to college kids and fur babies, too,” Purcell said.
Interest got so high in Purcell’s page that she had to cut off accepting people, as she said the group will not continue as the summer rolls out. She said, however, that the page may open back up in November in time for the holiday season. “Maybe to be a ‘Secret Santa’-like program,” Purcell said. The “Get Wined” group is also shutting down in less than two weeks.
Both programs have also has helped support local business, with gift cards also playing a role.
Chugg said stores like Edelweiss Gifts and More and Image Boutique were making Facebook posts that shared products that would be great for baskets.
Rainbow Confections and Beverage Mart, among many other local businesses, have seen business from the programs as well, Purcell said. She feels the group has done what it set out to do — provide smiles to families and children during the otherwise worrisome health pandemic.
“Now in my news feed, it’s all baskets and smiles and not all that negative stuff,” Purcell said.