Love Drop, a new online network of people that chooses one person or family a month to help, was looking for its first recipient.
Mary Montavon, a mentor with Glen Ellyn-based Bridge Communities transitional program for the homeless, knew just the right person.
Former Bridge client Jill Markussen, a single mother with three children at home, was getting on her feet after 2½ years in the Bridge program. Markussen had gotten a full-time job at DuPage County, returned to school to work toward a degree in social work and become an advocate for the hidden homeless like herself.
Featured in an Oct. 10, 2010, article in the Daily Herald, Markussen then was organizing "The New Face of Homelessness Symposium" and a couple of months before had moved with her children into an apartment in Wheaton.
But less than three weeks later, Markussen was homeless again when fire struck the three-apartment building where she lived.
Helped by her church, Bridge Communities, co-workers and total strangers who heard about her plight, Markussen didn't give up. She finished the fall semester with a 3.75 grade-point average, recently found a new place to live and is forming a nonprofit group to help families in crisis who might lack the support she had.
Montavon, part of the Naperville marketing agency Hildebrand Creative, had volunteered her services to Love Drop and knew the founders of the new network wanted to "pay it forward" to people like Markussen.
"I have the perfect candidate," Montavon said.
The Love Drop founders, along with Montavon and a few volunteers, delivered donations to Markussen and her family at their Bartlett townhouse on Saturday.
Love Drop co-founder Nate St. Pierre of Milwaukee said the donations included a few thousand dollars, kitchen items and furniture, gift cards and certificates for services. With the help of goldstar.com, they also were able to present the family of sports fans with a family ticket pack for an upcoming Chicago Bulls game.
Items were still coming in at the time of the drop-off.
"People are shipping things from all over the country," he said.
St. Pierre and his partner, a personal finance blogger and consultant who refers to himself as J. Money, officially launched the network Jan. 1 and all the donations depended on what their members had given. Videos telling Markussen's story have been featured on lovedrop.us during January. The network has more than 400 members, but the videos potentially have been viewed by thousands, said J. Money in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C.
Members may join the network for as little as $1 a month, but some pay up to $150, St. Pierre said.
"Anyone can join our group and you can pay whatever you want," he said. "When you get thousands of people doing that, it really makes a difference."
Members who pay at least $1 a month may nominate someone to be a Love Drop recipient. The founders then choose one person or family a month and send a volunteer production crew to shoot videos to tell their story online.
St. Pierre said Markussen exemplified the type of story they want to tell.
"A person going through a hard time, but they have a positive outlook and they're turning it around to help others," he said. "Jill inspired us with her story. With that story, we can inspire others."
Since Love Drop is not a 501(c) 3 charity, subscription dollars are divided up so 50 percent go to the monthly recipient, 20 percent to taxes and 30 percent to running the network. Individual members and businesses also may choose to donate goods and services, or simply help spread the word.
St. Pierre said he and his partner chose to run their network as a sustainable for-profit company because they did not want to hold fundraisers and wanted more personal contact with their recipients.
After the donations were delivered to Markussen on Saturday, Love Drop members in the Chicago area were to meet at Kona Grill in Lincolnshire.
"We want to help people, but we also want it to be fun," J. Money said.
Neither partner is a stranger to creative ways of giving. St. Pierre says his goal in life is to change the world. He quit his job leading the web team at a health care equipment and supplies company to do consulting work and run ItStartsWithUs, an online network that brings together volunteers.
"We build projects that help people, but they are for profit," he said.
J. Money, who also once had a 9-to-5 job, calls the two "social entrepreneurs." He declines to use his real name because he shares his personal experiences with finances on his blog.
Life since the fire
Markussen said she agreed to be videotaped for Love Drop, in part, because she wants to spread the word about her own charity she is starting. Named Project Flipmode, after the nickname of an older daughter who died, she would like to give help and support to one family a month in need.
"People are good. People will help," she said.
Markussen speaks from experience. Her church paid for her and her three children to stay in a hotel for three weeks after they lost everything in the October fire. Then a woman from her church whose mother had passed away let the family live in the mother's home from November until this month while getting the house ready for the market.
Markussen and her children recently moved to a Bartlett townhouse that Bridge Communities helped them find. The owner is willing to rent it at a below-market rate, she said.
A Roselle football team her two sons had belonged to replaced the trophies they lost in a fire and collected donations for the family. Firefighters salvaged her daughter's shadow box that contained mementos of Markussen's older daughter who had died.
Co-workers dropped off donations at her office, and strangers sent letters of support.
"My kids and I are just so grateful," she said. "It's been hard, but it's also been positive."