The 10,000 Strangers Project was born out of Meanwell, a new business with the sole purpose of helping South St. Paul causes.
Chris Ogren, 33, of South St. Paul says he never has a problem setting an astronomical goal and falling a bit short.
He sets monetary goals for the community to donate to local causes — schools or individuals with cancer or other serious illnesses.
But the saying is also applied to his new business, Meanwell, which aims to reach every individual in South St. Paul, plus 10,000 strangers from around the country, to donate to individual local causes.
“It’s going to work. You know what? Ten-thousand strangers — that’s a lot of people,” said Ogren, an Inver Grove Heights native.
“That’s not going to happen tomorrow. It may take 10 years. I hope not. But we’re going to get there. We’ve just got to put one foot in front of the other, just like a marathon.”
The business, which is only weeks old, sells merchandise and gives most of the profits to people in need in South St. Paul. It’s not registered as a nonprofit yet, but Ogren calls it a campaign rather than a business.
The proceeds from products sold through justmeanwell.com go directly to the causes after paying for the manufacture of the products — T-shirts, water bottles, bracelets and necklaces — and other expenses such as insurance, Ogren said.
The business’s motto, which is also a saying that Ogren lives by, is: “Nobody’s perfect, but nine times out of 10, you just need to mean well.”
“I want to get them thinking, ‘If I make a mistake, it’s all right. I just have to straighten it out and be more positive,’ ” Ogren said. “I like the idea of spreading a positive attitude. I’m no psychologist, but I’m just trying to find ways to inspire people.”
The idea sprouted from news this year that a South St. Paul 17-year-old girl, Nikki Karg, was diagnosed with leukemia. Ogren took some of the profit from his personal training business and handed her a check for about $270. Karg’s family has limited health insurance because both parents are self-employed.
“It’s unbelievable how a community can come together and support a family,” said Bridget Karg, Nikki’s mom. “It’s actually overwhelming.”
Ogren learned about others in South St. Paul who had similar struggles.
“After we handed them that first check, I thought, ‘That’s not enough,’ ” he said. “I knew we could do more, and do it faster.” In four weeks, Ogren raised $1,100.
“You want to help as much as you can, but you can only do so much alone. But when you bring people together, a lot more can be accomplished,” said Ogren’s wife, Kristen Ogren, who helps with the business. “He’s very spontaneous and comes up with these ideas and wants to hit the ground running. It takes me a little while to catch up, so I’m always a little more in awe about how fast it’s taken off. It still surprises me.”
The couple has been involved in other ways to help people, putting on free camps for children who can’t afford it and coaching local sports teams. Chris Ogren is also involved in the 5K for the late Danielle Jelinek, whose family started a charity for abused women.
“I don’t really like to toot our own horn — we’re just doing what comes naturally to us,” Kristen Ogren said. But skepticism from people who hear about the business is one of the challenges.
In Chris Ogren’s blog about Meanwell, a user wrote in response to the 10,000 Stranger Project: “It sounds like 10,000 scams.”
“That still fires me up a little bit,” Chris Ogren said, adding that many are confused about how the campaign works.
A user can go online, click on a person’s picture with their specific cause, or select a school or organization, then make a purchase. “People want to help somebody personally, and they like to see a face,” Ogren explained.
Those who select one cause have 50 percent of their cost go to the cause. Selecting two would allow 30 percent to go to each cause — a total of 60 percent.
Not only does Chris Ogren not keep any of the money, but he invested to start the business.
“We had money set aside for a vacation, but I kind of dipped into that because this is a bigger deal,” Chris Ogren said. “I’m just motivated to help out whoever we can.”
He hopes to be able to expand outside South St. Paul someday. “I just want to make sure that I’m doing a good job here first and not skipping anybody,” Chris Ogren said. “If we hear about somebody in a different city who needs help, of course we want to help them. There’s nothing really that’s going to stop us.”