Growing up in Bloomfield in the 1950s and 1960s, I remember seeing empty coffee cans next to cash registers at places like Ollie O’Briant’s drugstore, Bill Tews’ coffee shop, and Isham Pottorff’s gas station.
The side of the jar had a handwritten logo – a common fundraising technique at the time.
These simple fundraisers are the go-to way to seek donations to help local families pay for serious medical setbacks or help victims of house fires. The donations may go toward the purchase of new band uniforms for high schools, or financial support for local minor league teams.
Brian Burnham has had an “angel tree” in his supermarket every Christmas for years. It connects families in need with shoppers who may contribute.
Coffee cans and gift trees easily connect beneficiaries with the kind, charitable spirit of the people in the community. This spirit of helping others—friends, neighbors, even strangers—is one of the intangible assets of living in rural Iowa, and it’s still alive and well today, despite differences that sometimes divide us. good.
But technology seems to be pushing the coffee can aside. In the process, however, this change has expanded this spirit of reaching out. The results are often astonishing.
All of this came to mind as the nation reacted to the tragedy of Piper Lewis in Des Moines last week. The homeless teen stabbed to death a 37-year-old man in 2020 after she said he raped her five times while she was being prostituted by another man who befriended her The returning girl stabbed her to death.
Lewis pleaded guilty to manslaughter. Last week, she was sentenced to five years of probation and ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution to the deceased’s family.
The reparation obligation angered her former teachers, especially since Lewis was a victim of being a foster child, who was kicked out of her last home and then abused in the sex trade.
Teacher Leland Schipper didn’t reach for the empty coffee can. Instead, he opened an account on the GoFundMe website and posted a note explaining Lewis’ abuse and her current legal woes.
“Piper shouldn’t be financially burdened for the rest of her life because Iowa has a law that doesn’t give judges any discretion as to how to apply it,” Scheper said on GoFundMe. “Piper needs us now.”
Fifteen thousand people in Iowa and across the United States heard Sieper’s plea. By Sunday, $541,700 had been donated — enough to pay off her debt and pay for her college education.
The success of the GoFundMe program was no fluke.
Every day in cities large and small, people set up similar fundraising accounts, hoping to connect with compassionate people and make difficult tasks easier to take on.
Unlike the coffee pot approach, which only connects with potential donors as they walk past the checkout, GoFundMe fundraisers can stretch from border to border, even more than 24 hours a day.
That’s what happened on March 5 last year, when an unusual early-season tornado tore apart a strip of land between Winterset and Chariton. Sadly, seven people died and dozens more were upended by the widespread destruction of homes and cars.
One of the haunting images the storm created was a charming family portrait of Michael and Curry Bolger and their three young children. Photos show the couple sitting on the bed of an old pickup truck with their children peeking through the truck’s rear window.
The Blue Springs, Missouri family was visiting Curry’s parents in Winterset when the tornado struck. Everyone sought shelter in the home’s pantry, but Michael, Kim Li and Irving were all killed, along with Curry’s mother, Melissa Bazley.
Friends quickly set up a GoFundMe account to help Kuri and her family. It took a truckload of coffee cans to hold the donations — which came from 10,000 donors across the United States and ended up at $567,600.
There were also tears in response to the loss of another family in the same storm. Chariton’s Jesse Theron Fisher and his Uncle Harold Smith were camping south in Red Hawthorn State Park when winds of 170 mph hit. They live in a camper because their home was damaged in a recent fire.
Two friends huddled together in a camper van as a 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, I can see this. Why can’t I go with him?”
Friends joined a GoFundMe account that raised $26,400 to pay for Fisher’s funeral and to fund Smith’s future needs.
Anne Morgan of Bloomfield 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 countless other sums for those who sometimes just need help.
She’s always been drawn to traditional ways of fundraising—until friends encouraged her to try GoFundMe, when a family needs financial assistance for a long-delayed home improvement job.
“I had to convince me to set up a GoFundMe page,” she later posted. “I was told this is a better way to reach people outside Davis County and reach the younger generation. Well, in one day, we received $955 to achieve our goals.”
Save these coffee cans for other uses. You can’t argue with success — or the kindness of friends and strangers in times of adversity or special needs.