he checkbooks were out. The pens were ready to sign. Johnson County’s newest philanthropic endeavor was ready to give.

Each woman in the group had $100 to contribute. During the next hour, they would listen to three impassioned speeches on which local organization should get their money.

And with a simple vote, the Interchurch Food Pantry had $4,800 to use any way it could to help feed hungry families.

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“Sometimes, it’s really a critical time in terms of meeting some needs, and you’re not sure where those funds are going to come from,” said Linda Gibson, a group member and Greenwood City Council member. “So it’s a gift that just fulfills those major needs, and it’s such a nice amount that comes at one time.”

The effort was the work of a newly formed organization calling itself 100 Women Who Care. The philanthropic-minded group is comprised of local women whose only mission is contributing money to the agencies that help Johnson County.

Each member contributes $500 per year to join, then votes four times each year on worthy recipients of the funds.

“There are no car washes, no bake sales,” said Carol Phipps, one of the group’s founders. “This is a great concept for busy women who want to give back, and want to work with other women with similar giving interests.”

What makes their effort so ideal is that there are no strings attached for the money, Phipps said. Organizations don’t have to apply, or write a grant, to be considered for the funds.

Once the members vote, the winning organization can do whatever they want with the money.

“This has no strings. We have confidence these nonprofits will use this money responsibly,” said Cheryl Morphew, another founder and president of the Johnson County Development Corp. “If it’s keeping the lights on, good. There’s a reason why we need you as a nonprofit in our community, and you provide a valuable service.”

That urgency was illustrated by the initial meeting, conducted in February. After a fiery speech by Lisa Linter, director of the Johnson County Public Library, members voted to bestow their first batch of funding to the Interchurch Food Pantry.

The Johnson County support service fed more than 3,100 families throughout the year in 2015, most of which came multiple times.

By chance, the food pantry’s two furnaces had broken around the same time. Instead of forcing clients to wait and shop in the cold, or using funds that could be put toward feeding more people, the organization’s leaders were given an infusion of cash they could use to fix the problem.

“This was a perfect situation where they needed that money. Had they had to write a grant, there’s an issue of timing, what’s the grant cycle, when are they going to get the money,” Morphew said. “That’s the beauty of what draws women to this — they can use it for whatever they want.”

100 Women Who Care is an international effort of people to support the nonprofit work being done in their communities. The first chapter was formed in Michigan, when a woman named Karen Dunigan helped raise money to buy cribs, blankets, mattresses and baby supplies.

In order to buy enough bedding and cribs for an area health center for low-income families, the cost would hit $10,000. Dunigan thought if she could get 100 women to contribute $100, she could reach that goal.

Seeing the potential, she started bringing women together on a regular basis to pick a charity and contribute money.

Since then, chapters have spread throughout the U.S., Canada and beyond. More than 350 chapters have been founded, including nine in Indiana. The concept includes women-only and men-only clubs, co-ed chapters and clubs for children.

Locally, the organization was formed by a quartet of leaders already deeply entrenched in the county’s philanthropic community.

Phipps was the instigator of the group. She already belonged to a chapter in Edgar County, Illinois, recruited by a friend. The concept was so appealing that she gathered Morphew and another friend, Dorcas Abplanalp, to discuss starting it in Johnson County.

“I think in less than 30 seconds into telling them about the idea, they were all over it,” Phipps said.

Gail Richards, executive director of the Johnson County Community Foundation, was the fourth member recruited to help found the organization. After months of planning and inviting philanthropic women from around the county, 100 Women Who Care met for the first time in December.

The concept of the group is simple.

Women who join are asked to pledge $500 during the course of the year. The first $100 of that will go to a fund set up at the Johnson County Community Foundation, which will eventually be endowed to let the group tackle larger projects or donations as the chapter decides.

The rest of the money is split up equally between four quarterly meetings. Members gather for a decision-making process that seems part game, part pep rally and part celebration.

“It was fun. We all sit on committees where we have to sit through meetings and come to a consensus before a decision can be made. This is instant gratification,” Richards said.

Each woman is allowed to nominate an organization to receive the money. The only requirement is that it has to be a local charity that provides services or program, “for the good of Johnson County,” Phipps said.

Three organization names are chosen at random. Whoever nominated that agency is asked to give a five-minute speech about why they should get the money. After all three advocates have spoken, it’s up to a winner-take-all vote.

“Everyone votes right there. Someone counts, and very quickly, we announce a winner,” Phipps said. “It’s all right in one meeting, and you walk away knowing who won.”

Greenwood resident Garnet Vaughn joined after that initial recruitment. She was interested in helping community agencies, and was attracted by the no-red-tape approach to their distribution.

“I was thinking how it was going to work. But because of how it was organized, you knew coming in you were going to listen carefully, learn things you didn’t know before about this group, assimilate quickly, weigh it, choose and then celebrate,” she said.

Since forming, 100 Women Who Care has recruited 50 members to join. The group is open to anyone, and organizers are confident that they will reach their goal of at least 100, so that they can give $10,000 at each meeting.

Members plan to keep their quarterly giving for as long as people are interested in helping others, Phipps said. The county has no shortage of worthy nonprofits in need of funding, and club rules stipulate that once an organization is selected, they can’t win again for two years.

“There are several hundred nonprofits, large and small, serving Johnson County. We’re not going to run out of groups to help,” Richards said.

At a glance

100 Women Who Care

What: A group of local women participating in a giving circle to donate money to support a variety of charitable causes that directly impact Johnson County residents.

Who: Open to any woman who is interested in making a difference by making a financial commitment to support Johnson County charities.

Commitment: Members make a $100 contribution to the organization’s endowment fund and agree to write a $100 check per quarter to a charity that is selected by majority vote of women members at their quarterly meeting. The total annual commitment is $500.

Quarterly meetings: May 12, Aug. 11, Nov. 10

How to join: Membership forms are available at jccf.org or facebook.com/100WomenWhoCareJCIN

More information: E-mail 100womenjc@gmail.com

If you go

100 Women Who Care Johnson County

Quarterly meeting

When: 5 to 6:30 p.m. May 12

Where: Franklin Elks Lodge No. 1818, 56 E. Jefferson St.

Cost: $10 per person payable at the door, includes snacks; cash bar available

RSVP: 100womenjc@gmail.com

Important: Bring your $100 check to make out to the winning charity

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rtrares@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2727.