Founder of Petaluma’s ‘Fabulous Women’ first inspired by Oprah
For Krista Gawronski, the call to service came in the form of a question. She and her sister, Sandra Fetter, had scored tickets to a conference at which their idol Oprah Winfrey was keynote speaker.
“What are you good at? How are you going to turn that into some service, some contribution back to the community?” the TV megastar challenged the crowd.
The question stayed with Gawronski. At the time she was parenting two small boys and managing a business, Mr. Pickles Sandwich Shop in Petaluma. But she was also yearning to find a higher purpose.
Two years passed before the answer emerged when Gawronski had occasion to rally around a neighbor in need. That small act of kindness inspired her to a form of grassroots community that is as much about showing love and support to people in crisis as it is about financial giving. Whenever there is a need, Gawronski and her “Fabulous Women,” appear on the scene like an emergency response crew, bearing food, hugs, good cheer and support for people in crisis, whether it is illness, loss or financial need.
“We really want to get people away from the idea that you have to have money to give,” said Gawronski, flashing a deeply dimpled smile that is a secret weapon of disarmament for anyone who might be considering saying no to The Fabulous Women. “It can be time. It can be a pair of socks or food from your pantry. It’s a collective coming together.”
In the 14 years that The Fabulous Women have been sprinkling acts of kindness on the Sonoma County community, the group has raised several hundred thousand dollars, mostly through small donations of $20 or less.
Gawronski is not one to grab credit. The acknowledgments in her new book, “Be Good: A Heart-Centered Journey,” in which she shares her prescription for a richer life through compassion and service and faith in something greater than oneself, go on for three pages.
But Gawronski emerged as the frontwoman, spark plug, instigator, idea woman, engine and central heart of a multitude of Fabulous Women productions. Those range from fundraisers for people going through health or financial crises or tragic loss, to public workshops aimed at raising awareness of important issues that affect everyday people. The group also issues small grants to individuals in need and stages community gatherings like Petaluma’s annual Festival of Trees, a warmhearted free holiday event at the Hotel Petaluma that looks like it could have been lifted out of a Hallmark Christmas movie, complete with fake snow.
For her years of grassroots service, Gawronski was selected to receive the first North Bay Spirit Award, an honor created as a way to call out people whose good deeds are hands on, close to the ground and go beyond merely volunteering. The Spirit award puts a spotlight on people who come up with creative solutions to community problems and go all-in with a lead-by-example style that inspires others to step up as well.
Gawronski, who draws from a seemingly bottomless well of energy and compassion, embodies that type of giving. Beyond her own good deeds, she has made it her mission to uplift others and inspire them to “use their gifts for service.”
Created a model
Through The Fabulous Women, which she co-founded with her sister, Sandra Fetter, Gawronski created a model for a populist style of community giving that can be undertaken at any level. The events never charge admission. Food is potluck or donated. Money is raised through silent auctions, raffles and passing the can donations. People are asked to give only what they can or feel compelled to give.
“Not everybody can write the thousand-dollar check,” said Gawronski, who turns 49 in February. “When I look at these big fundraisers for different groups, I understand. They are raising money for good causes. But it might cost $200 to attend an event. Most people don’t have that. They really don’t. That almost gives people permission to sit it out.”
The model for the organization came about by happenstance. One of Gawronski’s neighbors, a young British mother of two, was suddenly widowed when her husband died freakishly of a staph infection. He was in England and she was alone in a new country with a newborn and no family, income or a way to get home.
Gawronski invited a group of friends, neighbors and loyal customers over to her east Petaluma house for potluck, then put a paint can in the middle of her living room floor and challenged everybody to consider what they’d spend on a night out with friends and place that amount in the can. After everyone went home she picked up the can in astonishment. It was covered with caring messages and crammed with $1,000 all given by people of modest means.