Sjodin family support stays strong
Fundraiser draws huge crowd
May 12, 2023
An estimated 1,500 people showed up for the Sjodin family Saturday, packing the Four Seasons Sports Complex and Event Center in Carlton to demonstrate their support for 18-year-old Janae Sjodin, badly hurt in a car crash six weeks ago.
The parking lot outside was packed. Cars overflowed onto Chestnut Street for blocks in either direction. More and more people streamed into the arena throughout the afternoon, dropping money in the donation jar by the entrance and buying raffle tickets inside. The total number of attendees outnumbered the combined populations of Carlton (962) and Wrenshall (441), where the Sjodin family live, work and play.
"This is called small-town Minnesota right here," said local photographer Alan Johnson, gesturing at the crowd.
Janae, a senior at Wrenshall High School, was severely injured in a car crash March 24 and remains in a Duluth hospital, still unresponsive but healing slowly, her mother said Saturday.
Janae and her 11-year-old sister Jaela were heading home on Carlton County Road 1 after softball practice, just before 7 p.m. Their SUV was hit by another SUV at the intersection with Carlton County Road 4. The driver said the sun was in her eyes and she didn't see the stop sign or the Sjodin vehicle.
That driver and Jaela had minor injuries and were sent to Duluth by ambulance. Janae took the brunt of the impact, suffering a severe head injury and multiple broken bones. She was airlifted to the hospital and has remained there ever since.
Almost immediately, people from near and far rallied around the family, including fans at a Two Harbors all-star basketball game three days later who raised over $2,400. Janae's classmates elected to forgo their senior trip and donated $7,000 to the family.
Sjodin Strong committee member Emma Grover - who coached Janae and Jaela in girls basketball - called the support "incredible." She said the idea for a fundraiser grew into something none of them could have imagined. "Suddenly the whole community wants to pour some love out and this is what it turns into," she said.
Each side of the large open arena offered something different Saturday. Rows of silent auction items greeted people on the east end, while volunteers dished up plates of BBQ beef and sides at the opposite end. The entire north wall was lined with more than 120 gift baskets, which people bid on by dropping raffle tickets in a nearby paper bag, taking a chance on jewelry, baby blankets and clothes, TVs, art supplies, toys, home decor and more. Nine handmade quilts hung along the south wall, with home baked goods for sale on multiple tables.
Things quieted down when Janae's mom, Angela Sjodin, went in front of the crowd at 3:16 p.m. That's a special time denoting a Bible verse for those who have been following her journal entries on the Caring Bridge website. Jennifer Sandstrom read from John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."
Angela talked about the day of the crash, of getting the call from Jaela, who couldn't wake her sister, of racing to the scene four miles from their home.
She and her husband, Erick, have leaned into their Christian faith in the aftermath of the crash. Angela's online entries are filled with references to God, and Bible verses that bring her comfort. They may not like it, but it's their story, she said, and they don't believe ithe accident occurred by chance.
Sandstrom spoke about the power of prayer, and the "tens of thousands" of people praying for the Sjodin family.
"Now I'm not super happy or pleased with this chapter in my life, or that of my daughter's, but it does not matter, because it is guaranteed to have an amazing and incredible end," Angela told the crowd. "If not on this side of Heaven it will be on the other side."
She described Janae as a "spicy" Christian who was unafraid to tell others what is right or wrong. "Janae has big plans for her life and God has bigger plans for it," she said.
Things are still very difficult, she said. Janae is still unresponsive and doesn't respond to her family or the environment around her, her mother said, but they recently got good news: Craig Hospital in Denver, Colorado, said she was appropriate for their program. Money raised Saturday will go to help Janae travel to the renowned hospital, which specializes in neurorehabilitation and research for individuals with spinal cord and brain injuries.
"Janae was born in Denver and we are praying she will be reborn in Denver," Angela said.
Grover didn't have a solid figure on how much money was raised Saturday but said the fundraiser was "very successful."
The sum of the day was greater than the hundreds of donated items, gift cards and cash. It was a day when a larger community came together - some of them friends and family, others strangers who just wanted to help - to do something for a family that is hurting.
"Yesterday's benefit was an overwhelming blessing," Angela wrote Sunday. "I was wondering last night why my arms and back were so sore and realized it was from all the hugs and love I received yesterday."
"Our family has been so blessed by the outpouring of support. I think to myself - 'I do not deserve this' - but then I'm with my baby and think 'no one deserves this pain.' I will never be able to thank you all. But know how grateful we are for all the love and support you have shown our girl and our family."
Donate to The Sjodin Family account at Frandsen Bank & Trust, 712 Highway 33 South, Cloquet.