Whether he’s saluting Elton John or Bruce Springsteen or just singing his own songs, Mick Sterling gives the same hard-to-resist pitch at intermission.
Pay whatever you want for one of his CDs or the book he wrote about being a longtime Minnesota barroom rocker. The money all goes to his 30 Days Foundation to help people in need.
“Most people need one or two things to stop them from needing 10 things,” Sterling said. “They want to pay their bills, but they need to catch up and catch their breath. It’s not the amount, it’s the timing of the amount.”
Sterling’s foundation will pay that rent or energy bill, offer a Target card for groceries or provide a fuel card so someone can commute to a clinic for treatment.
No money is given to the applicant. Rather 30 Days pays the bill directly to the provider or sends a specific gift card. A maximum award is $1,500.
All applications are made via e-mail — The30DaysFoundation@live.com — partly to create a paper trail (but not paper work) and partly for efficiency (there is no office or telephone). Sterling receives hundreds of e-mails per month, and he answers all of them, though the foundation can’t help everybody.
“This charity is almost like an online bartender; people trust this concept,” said Sterling. “Maybe they feel the anonymity of not being face-to-face, that they can say what they really have to say.”
Sterling figures 30 Days has assisted more than 90,000 Minnesotans since he founded it in 2011. Some were via food services at shelters. About 95% of the people come through referrals, often from social service agencies.
Those agencies understand how the more flexible 30 Days can fill in gaps in their world.
Amra Budimlič, a residential therapist with the Emily Program in St. Paul, said Sterling’s foundation has helped “so many of our eating disorder clients be able to seek medically necessary care when stepping down from our residential to our day programming, when they are unable to pay for lodging fees to stay in the cities to seek treatment.
“He has been a lifesaver of a resource for myself, and most importantly, our clients.”
Sterling started 30 Days because he’s been there himself. In 2010, within the span of two or three months, issues began challenging him, his family and associates.
“We were facing things out of our control,” he recalled. “Couple family members got laid off or got sick. Rent issues. My serpentine belt broke in my car. Little stuff,” he said.
“I thought that’s an interesting idea for a charity: What if you could do one thing to stop the momentum of bad things happening because you couldn’t take care of the first thing? There was nothing out there that addressed this, unless you belonged to a church or that type of thing.”
He came up with the name “30 Days Foundation” because these were requests that he hoped to fund within 30 days, something that other foundations can’t do with their more restrictive quarterly schedules.
“I don’t know why I’m compelled to do this,” said Sterling, 58. “It’s something I have to do. I don’t really question it.”
Without a staff, Sterling spends a few hours nearly every day working on 30 Days Foundation, answering e-mails, paying bills and corresponding with social service agencies.
In November of 2011, 30 Days’ first message — via MySpace — was from a woman who itemized her various needs up to $1,500.
“I had $300 in our account,” Sterling remembered. “I paid her Sprint phone bill of $78.94. I called her back because she was the first person and I said, ‘We can’t do all of this. We just started. But I paid your Sprint bill. I hope it helps.’
“She started sobbing like a child. When she stopped crying, she said, ‘I can’t tell my family and my friends. I’m so embarrassed I can’t even pay my cellphone bill.’ She was so grateful.
“That’s not a lot of money. But that amount at that particular time was pivotal. It changed her trajectory. That was a big psychological boost for her.”
Sterling seldom meets the people he helps, though many send thank-you e-mails. This month, at a 30 Days Foundation tent at the Bayfront Blues Festival in Duluth, three or four people came up to him to say thanks for helping them out.
30 Days receives grants and donations from such places as Edina Realty Foundation and AgMotion, but depends on individual donations. Last year, the foundation raised $300,000 and distributed 90% of the funds. Sterling receives a “very small monthly payment,” and other funds are reserved for event expenses and storage for a food program.
On Aug. 25, 30 Days will hold a concert fundraiser, Relief Fest, at the Chart House in Lakeville from 4 to 9 p.m. Sterling thinks it will be the first time that two Minnesota music institutions — Lamont Cranston and Mick Sterling & the Stud Brothers — have shared a bill. Admission is $50 (which includes a food buffet), with all ticket money going to the foundation.
At some point during the concert, Sterling will give his pitch to buy his CDs, the latest of which includes back-to-back songs by him and by his son, Tucker Jensen, who died of cancer in March.
The singer will be grateful for whatever anybody donates.
“If you pay me $2, I’ll give you a CD,” he said. “Once, right around Christmas, someone handed me a folded-up check for a CD. I didn’t look at it till I got home — $1,000.”