They like big beards, but they like big hearts more.
The Southern Ohio Beard Society is a group of five Adams County natives whose founder says they would like to model themselves after Hillsboro residents Justin and Andi Reno, whose Anna’s Army has raised more than $220,000 to fight cystic fibrosis in honor of their late daughter, Anna.
“My goal to sort of have what Justin Reno has with Anna’s Army,” Josh Tolle, the founder of the Southern Ohio Beard Society (SOBC) said Monday. “People ask us how big our beards are and things like that, but we’re not as concerned about that as we are with just having big hearts. We just want to be a shining light in the community like that.
“Our common interest, other than growing beards, is that we all have the mindset of wanting to change Southern Ohio. We want to be an outreach for the less fortunate, drug addicted, children, veterans and overall just another helping hand in the impoverished communities that we live in.”
Formed around Halloween, the SOBC’s first big project was collecting Christmas toys for children. Tolle said they started with the idea of trying to help a handful of kids. They put application forms in post offices and on Facebook yard sale pages telling people to let the group know if they knew someone that needed a Christmas present. They collected toys and sold shirts and hoodies to supplement their donations, reviewed the applications that came in for help, and when they were done decided they could help 42 children, including some from Highland County, have a Christmas they otherwise would probably not have. Now they have enough supplies to help six more children.
Tolle said the society started out as more of a joke than anything.
“I have some friends with beards and we said let’s make something out of it. Then it got pretty serious,” said Tolle, who said he has an associate of arts degree as a social worker, but makes his living building semis. “There’s a lot of suffering people out there and I want to do what I can to get my hands dirty and make a difference with the other liked-minded guys involved in this.”
Tolle said the SOBC’s work will not be limited to Adams County. He said it also welcomes new members, as long as they’re willing to undergo a background check.
“We don’t want what we stand for to be associated with any negativity,” he said of the reason for a background check.
If someone needs a sidewalk, maybe a handrail, or something else they can’t create for themselves; or maybe they need food or clothes, that’s the kind of thing the SOBC wants to hear about. He said the group recently helped a lady who had a new job and was going to be able to buy Christmas gifts for her kids, but she didn’t have gas money to get back and forth to the new job until that first paycheck came in. So they got her a gas card.
This summer they would like to do something for veterans, breast cancer and people with autism.
“That’s the kind of stuff we want to do to help out the Southern Ohio community as a whole, not just Adams County, so we can reach as far as we can. We’d like to be as big as possible,” Tolle said.
The SOBC meets every Monday evening. Anyone interested in helping or becoming part of the group can visit its Facebook page at Southern Ohio Beard Society.
“This is our way of showing people there’s still at least five guys in Southern Ohio that still care about people,” Tolle said. “Obviously, there’s a lot more than just us, but we want to be those guys that do things people don’t expect them to do.”
Reach Jeff Gilliland at 937-402-2522 or on Twitter @13gillilandj.