January 15, 2016
There's an organization that comes alongside agricultural people who have medical issues and need help financially.
Cowfolks Care is a not-for-profit group founded in 2013 to help ag folks in need of financial assistance due to major health problems.
The organization, founded by Sheila Carlson, is a Facebook community that holds auctions to raise the money. People donate items of all kinds: saddles, custom made silver, knives, bits, paintings, hotel rooms, bull and horse semen, even horses, with one hundred percent of the profits going towards the beneficiary.
Carlson, who lives in Mormon Lake, Arizona, posts someone who is in need of help, and others donate items for sale. An ending time for the auction is set, and people bid on the items on the Facebook page. When the auction ends, the winning bidder pays for their item by sending money to Carlson; after monies are received, the donator of the item mails it to the buyer.
Since Cowfolks Care started, about 30 individuals have been helped, with the average amount raised for each person between $4000 and $7000. Carlson plans an auction about every other month, depending on the need. Anyone can nominate someone to be the recipient of an auction. Carlson and her board of directors ask for verification via doctor letters or hospital bills. Auctions have been held for ag people all across the country: from Wyoming to West Virginia to Kansas and New Mexico, "wherever there's a need," Carlson said.
One recipient of Cowfolks Care was Shelley Jones' brother, Ken Hafen. Ken, who lived in Panaca, Nev., was diagnosed with leukemia in 2013, and he and his wife frequently made the 200 mile trip to Salt Lake City to the hospital for treatment. Ken spent both Christmases, 2013-2014, in the hospital, and came home in February 2015. He died ten days later.
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His Cowfolks Care auction raised $5,600 which was greatly appreciated, his sister said. The money was used to pay bills and help his wife travel to the hospital to be with him. Ken's auction was held right before Christmas 2013, which made the holiday a bit cheerier for his wife, Brittney and daughters Mayah, Chloie and Zoie. "It was wonderful, getting that extra money," Jones said, "right before Christmas. They had a good Christmas for his last one. It was absolutely wonderful, what Cowfolks Cares did for him."
Another recipient, Gracie Buser, was diagnosed with terminal metastatic breast cancer in 2013. The Cowfolks Care auction raised $6,000 for her and her husband, Dave, who were grateful for the money. "It was a relief," he said. "It was kind of a cushion, to know it was there. It was a safety net, and it takes a hell of a lot off your mind when you know it's there."
At the time of Gracie's diagnosis, Dave worked on the TS Ranch near Dunphy, Nevada, which is located about 240 miles from where Gracie doctored in Salt Lake City. Since then, the couple has moved to Wells, Nevada, which is a 120 mile trip.
Cowfolks Care also asks its Facebook friends to donate items to families in need. Each November and December, Carlson posts details about families anonymously (Family A, Family B, et cetera), with the ages of the adults and the kids and what they could use. People are generous, providing clothing, toys, and gift cards, which come in handy for expenses like fuel. Gracie Buser was the recipient of a Christmas care package that included nail polish, scented hand lotions, files, and a book. It was a big boost for her morale, she says. People might think that's "foo-foo stuff, but to me, that meant the world. It's special to feel a little "girlie" from time to time, and to have somebody send that to you, it really does mean the world."
Agricultural people have trouble asking for help, Carlson says. "In the Western heritage, we're all pretty proud, and it's hard to admit you might need help. I've had people who we were going to help, but they were able to sell cows and they wanted us to help others who needed it."
Carlson's board of directors and helpers are all volunteers. A tax specialist and a lawyer both donate their time, as do the secretary (who lives in Minneapolis) and the treasurer (who lives in California). They hold regular meetings via phone call.
Carlson got the idea to start the group after she was helped by others. She cowboys in Arizona and had a family funeral in Oregon to attend, but didn't have the money. "I like to think I'm just paying it forward," she says. "I cowboy for a living. I'm on cowboy wages, and I'm not going to get rich but I love what I do." Friends on Facebook sent her money for travel expenses to Oregon, so she was able to go to the funeral. "Even to this day, it gives me goosebumps and cold chills when I think about it. I'm paying it forward from that."
Cowfolks Care is a 501-c-3 organization; it can be found on Facebook by searching for "Cowfolks Care." The group has nearly 8,200 members.
This past November, Carlson received a letter from a single mom who had been the recipient of a Cowfolks Care project. "They felt they had enough money left over to help another person with their Thanksgiving," Carlson said.
"It just moves forward. It's an awesome, awesome thing."