The 1-year-old girl, Nella Grutter, has pale skin, bright blonde hair and Type 1 spinal muscular atrophy, a neurological disease causes muscle damage and eventually leads to death.
Kristin Estok first heard Nella’s story through mutual friends on Facebook and felt compelled to do something to help the family. So, with the help of another mother, Tiffany Austin, she held an auction for Nella on the photo-sharing website Instagram. The auction sold clothing, accessories, prints and artwork.
Soon after, the two women created Go Shout Love, an online company that sells inspirational apparel to raise money for families who have sick children. Registered in June, the company will feature a new child each month and 60 percent of the profits from its T-shirt sales will be donated to that child’s family.
The March auction for Nella raised $5,500, according to her mother, Grace Grutter, who said the money was sent to her Kansas City, Mo., family via PayPal. “Having a medically fragile child is extremely expensive,” Ms. Grutter said. “It’s really awesome they’re reaching out to raise awareness.”
In the photo on Ms. Estok’s fridge, Nella lies on a multicolored blanket, grinning a mouthful of gums. Ms. Estok has never met the little girl, but she prays for her every day.
“It reminds me to slow down, not get anxious and have more patience over the small things,” said the stay-at-home mom.
This month’s featured child is Paisley Ewing, a 1-year-old from Newport Beach, Calif. She has child interstitial lung disease. June’s child was 1-year-old Silas Jacobsen from Parkville, Mo., who has a chromosome abnormality.
The company was able to donate $5,538 to Silas’ family, having exceeded its monthly sales goal.
“We want to make each month the best month yet,” Ms. Estok said.
The company’s main platform is Instagram, where the majority of its sales take place. That’s also how the company connects with families and vendors.
“I don’t think it would be possible without social media,” Ms. Estok said. “Silas, last month’s feature — I just happened to [come across] the story on Instagram. I don’t even know how it happened. It might have been a hashtag or something.”
Social media are also how Ms. Estok and Ms. Austin reconnected. Though they both attended Missouri Western State University, they were never really close friends.
“We have a few mutual friends from undergrad, but we were never besties,” said Ms. Austin, who lives in Lake Ozark, Mo. “Social media kind of brought us back together.”
Though Ms. Austin lives in a different time zone, the two managed to create a working routine. Ms. Estok deals with the company’s website and product shipments, and Ms. Austin focuses on finances.
While many companies that donate to charitable causes are nonprofits, the two moms decided to make theirs a for-profit company.
“We realized that we could accomplish all that we want to accomplish, still giving a huge portion of funds to the family, and still be a for-profit company since we do make 40 percent from our shirt sales,” Ms. Estok said. “This way we have a bit more freedom to give bigger amounts to the families and more freedom over how we move the money.”
The way the company is set up would not allow for it to function well as a nonprofit or a charitable organization, according to Pittsburgh-based tax attorney Jack Owens. Nonprofits benefit a broad based segment of the public and charities don’t let companies earmark specific individuals.
But, he said, the obvious difference has to do with taxes.
“This LLC probably could not organize as a charitable organization because they’re picking out someone in advance and saying, ‘we want to benefit this family,’ ” Mr. Owens said. “You could set up a nonprofit, but there would be no tax deductions. It’s a very nice thing to do, but the law just doesn’t allow for it.”
Ms. Estok’s house serves as the company’s product distribution center. Her husband, Dane, stops after work to pick up shirts from Point Breeze-based Clockwise Tees, which does custom T-shirt printing. Ms. Estok and her mother, Terri, package them, and she gets them ready for shipping after putting her 18-month-old son, Eli, to bed. Three large plastic tubs filled with gray tees were waiting for packaging on top of her dining room table last week.
All the shirts have an inspirational quote that means something special to the month’s featured family. June’s shirt reads, “All the cool kids make a difference,” and July’s message is, “Keep on dancing.”
The items in the online shop are only offered for the month a certain family is featured. The children’s shirts are $22. Adult shirts are $28. The other items in the shop come through the company’s vendors and they set the prices, Ms. Estok said.
“We sold out of our shirts completely the first month and it looks like we will do that this month, so we have not run into the problem of them not selling,” she said.
Most of the company’s vendors are also online-based. One is Little BIG Dreamers in Lynnfield, Ma., which makes headbands and head wraps. Shouting Love Designs in Little Rock, Ark., does custom graphics. Go Shout Love also receives donations through Pittsburgh-based 4moms, which creates specialty baby products.
The two founders hope the company will continue to grow so they can add more products and expand their online store.
“We branched out this month,” Ms. Estok said. “We have women’s tanks and men’s designs, whereas the first ones we just had an adult shirt and a kids’ shirt. We definitely want to keep growing with our shop and our followers, coming up with new ideas each month to raise funds and get people excited.”
But the two don’t want Go Shout Love to be just about raising funds. They also want to create awareness for the families.
“For a lot of them, it’s not just about the money,” Ms. Estok said. “They want what their baby has — their diagnosis — to be spread and their stories to be heard.“
The business has also opened a door for connecting the featured families with one other.
“They’ve kind of all banded together,” Ms. Austin said. “I just know that they feel that love because of what we’re doing.”
Madasyn Czebiniak: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1269. Twitter: @PG_Czebiniak.