(KMSP) - It's a cold Sunday morning in a parking lot in Eagan, but you'd be hard-pressed to find a warmer welcome anywhere. Here, dozens of people from all walks of life are drawn together on a single mission.
Laura Henrickson is welcoming people onto a charter bus.
"Alright here's our adventure, you guys. They don't know we're coming and so it's going to be a lot of fun," she said.
Meanwhile, two hours south of the Twin Cities, a small community dishes up breakfast for one of their own - and have no idea what's headed their way. They're attending a benefit for one-year-old Gabby Brown who's fighting a fierce battle with Leukemia.
"Now, we cry every day just from the love and abundance of support and care that our community has shown us," said Matt Brown, Gabby's dad.
Back on the bus, the plot is thickening. Laura Henrickson is the mastermind behind this group called the Benefit Crashers. The idea was born out of Laura's own experience trying to help her brother navigate his daughter's cancer while they were living overseas.
"I felt so bad that they felt so alone out there. And I thought to myself, 'I don't ever want my kids to feel alone or anyone else to feel that loneliness,'” she said.
Laura started with small crashes. She rounded up a couple of friends and family, found benefits and simply showed up.
“I wanted something my family and friends could all go to with money or with not money, just to be a part of something.”
Now the movement is taking on a life of its own. Last month, dozens of people connected via the group's Facebook page and crashed a benefit for Sawyer Warner. The 8-year old was thrown off a waterslide last summer and is recovering, but facing a lifetime of care.
Since they started in May, Laura and company have crashed eight benefits. There was Theresa, Anthony, Tina and Justin just to name a few. All of the beneficiaries are now a part of the crashers' extended family.
In fact, the pay if forward piece of this is what's most rewarding for Laura. She watches it play out benefit after benefit. For example, Justin's benefit crash inspired Justin's brother-in-law Joe to submit a video to the Benefit Crashers, requesting their support for his friend Matt.
Then, on a cold Sunday morning, the group gathered in a parking lot in Preston, Minnesota. The Benefit Crashers were ready to make an impact, and as Matt Brown stepped out of his daughter's pancake benefit breakfast, he saw a bus full of support.
"We are the benefit crashers and we're coming from the Twin Cities and your friend Joe - you're talking to him now. Joe called us. His video tape said how much he loves you he couldn't come," Laura said to them.
Matt is overwhelmed. "I'm crying," he said. Laura assures him, "You can cry, it's all good!”
As a wave of big hearts in blue shirts makes themselves at home, there's a real sense of support and healing - and it goes both ways. Joan Morris has been on several crashes and always gets as much as she gives.
"I was in Iowa by myself. My husband got sick, and I never felt so alone. My son died a couple years ago.. that was traumatic. My heart goes out to people in pain. Nobody really knows that pain until they have to deal with it," she said.
In a few hours, the little corner of the world became a better place - a family feels supported, strangers made new connections, and a community grew closer. All because one woman had a dream.
"Looking at the bus and all the people who came with their families and these babies they brought...woke up early in the morning. It's amazing to have the following that we've had and support that we have. I'm just overwhelmed by it. I'm just thrilled," Laura said.