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Tech has big community donations

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Growing up in Bloomfield in the 1950s and 1960s, I remember seeing empty coffee cans next to cash registers in places like Ollie O’Briant’s pharmacy, Bill Tews’ coffee shop, and the gas station in ‘Isham Pottorff.

The cans had handwritten signs taped to the side – a common fundraising technique at the time.

These simple solicitations were the preferred way to seek donations to help a local family meet their expenses following a serious medical setback or help the victims of a home fire. Donations could be used for new high school group uniforms or provide a financial boost to local Little League teams.

Brian Burnam had a “angel tree” in his family’s supermarket every Christmas for many years. He connected families in need of a helping hand with buyers who could help.

The coffee cans and the gift tree were easy ways to connect recipients to the caring and charitable spirit of people in the community. That spirit of helping others — friends, neighbors, and even strangers — is one of the intangibles of life in rural Iowa that’s still alive and well these days, despite the disagreements that sometimes divide us.

But technology seems to have pushed back the coffee can. In the process, however, the shift broadened the reach of this spirit of lending a helping hand. The results are often breathtaking.

All of this comes to mind as people across the country reacted to the Pieper Lewis tragedy of Des Moines last week. The homeless teenager was 15 when she fatally stabbed a 37-year-old man in 2020 after he said he raped her five times during a period she was prostituted by another man who hooked up of friendship with her.

Lewis pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Last week, she was placed on probation for five years and ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution to the family of the deceased.

The restitution requirement angered his former teacher, particularly over Lewis’ victimization as an adopted child who had been kicked out of his last home and then sex-trafficked.

The teacher, Leland Schipper, didn’t take an empty coffee can. Instead, he created an account on the GoFundMe website and posted a note explaining Lewis’ abuse and his current legal situation.

“Pieper doesn’t deserve to be financially burdened for the rest of his life because the state of Iowa wrote a law that gives judges no discretion as to how it is enforced,” Schipper said. on GoFundMe. “Pieper needs us now.”

Fifteen thousand people in Iowa and the United States heard Schipper’s call. As of Sunday, $541,700 had been paid – enough to satisfy his restitution debt and pay for his college education.

The success of this GoFundMe initiative is no accident.

Every day, in cities big and small, people are creating similar fundraising accounts in hopes of connecting with friendly souls who will help make a difficult task a little easier to bear.

Unlike the coffee can method, which only connects with potential donors when they walk past the cash registers, GoFundMe solicitations have a reach that can stretch from border to border. and beyond 24 hours a day.

That’s how it was last March 5, when freak early-season tornadoes tore a swath between Winterset and Chariton. Tragically, seven people died and dozens more lives were disrupted by extensive damage to homes and cars.

One of the haunting images from the Storm’s toll was the charming family portrait of Michael and Kuri Bolger and their three young children. The photo showed the couple sitting in the bed of an old pickup truck, their children looking out of the truck’s rear window.

Family from Blue Springs, Missouri were visiting Kuri’s parents in Winterset when the tornado hit. Everyone sought refuge in the pantry of the house, but Michael, Kinlee, and Owen were killed, along with Kuri’s mother, Melissa Bazley.

Friends quickly created a GoFundMe account to help Kuri and her family. It would have taken a truckload of coffee cans to accommodate the donations – which came from 10,000 donors across the United States and ultimately reached $567,600.

The response to losing another family in the same storm also brought tears. Jesse Theron Fisher of Chariton was camping south of there with his uncle, Garold Smith, at Red Haw State Park when the 170 mph winds hit. They were staying in the RV because their house had been damaged in a recent fire.

The two friends huddled together in the RV as the tornado passed overhead. Afterwards, Smith crawled out of the rubble and called his nephew.

“Then I found him lying on the ground,” Smith told KCCI a few days later. “Every time I close my eyes, that’s all I see. Why couldn’t I have accompanied him?

Friends got started with a GoFundMe account that raised $26,400 to pay for Fisher’s funeral and provide money for Smith’s needs in the future.

Bloomfield’s Anne Morgan is one of those unsung heroes that every community is blessed with. The former educator has raised tens of thousands of dollars for college scholarships and other untold amounts for people who sometimes just need a helping hand.

She always turned to traditional fundraising methods — until friends encouraged her to try GoFundMe when a family needed financial assistance for a long-delayed home improvement job.

“I had to be convinced to start a GoFundMe page,” she later posted. “I was told this was a better method to reach those far away from Davis County and to reach a younger generation. Well, in one day we received $955 to reach our goal. »

Save those coffee cans for other uses. You can’t argue with success – or with the kindness of friends and strangers in times of adversity or special needs.