Growing up in Bloomfield in the 1950s and 1960s, I remember seeing empty coffee cans by the cash registers at places like Ollie O’Briant’s Pharmacy, Bill Tews’ Coffee Shop, and Isham Pottorff’s Gas Station.
The cans had handwritten signs taped to the side, a common fundraising technique of the time.
Those simple requests were the means of seeking donations to help a local family with the expenses of a serious medical setback or help victims of a house fire. Donations could go toward new high school band uniforms or provide a financial boost for local Little League teams.
Brian Burnam had an “angel tree” in his family’s supermarket every Christmas for many years. He matched families who needed a helping hand with shoppers who could contribute.
The coffee cans and the gift tree were easy ways to connect recipients with the kind and charitable spirit of people in the community. That spirit of helping others — friends, neighbors, and even strangers — is one of the intangibles of living in rural Iowa that is still alive and well these days, despite the disagreements that sometimes divide us.
But technology seems to have left the coffee can behind. In the process, however, the change has broadened the reach of that helping spirit. The results are often surprising.
All of this comes to mind as people across the country responded last week to the Des Moines Pieper Lewis tragedy. The homeless teen was 15 years old when she fatally stabbed a 37-year-old man in 2020 after he said he raped her five times during a period when another man who had befriended her was prostituting her.
Lewis pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter. Last week, she was placed on five years’ probation and ordered to pay $150,000 in restitution to the family of the dead man.
The restitution obligation angered her former teacher, especially given Lewis’s victimization as a foster child who had been kicked out of her last home and then abused in sex trafficking.
The teacher, Leland Schipper, did not reach for an empty coffee can. Instead, he created an account on the GoFundMe website and posted a note explaining Lewis’s abuse and his current legal status.
“Pieper does not deserve to be financially burdened for the rest of her life because the state of Iowa wrote a law that gives judges no discretion in how it is applied,” Schipper said on GoFundMe. Pieper needs us now.
Fifteen thousand people in Iowa and the United States heard Schipper’s plea. By Sunday, $541,700 had been contributed, enough to satisfy his restitution debt and pay for a college education.
The success of this GoFundMe initiative is no accident.
Every day, in cities big and small, people open similar fundraising accounts in the hope of connecting with sympathetic souls who will help make a difficult task a little easier to cope with.
Unlike the coffee can method, which only makes a connection with potential donors when they walk past the cash registers, GoFundMe requests have a reach that can stretch from border to border and beyond 24 hours a day. day.
That’s how it was on March 5, when rare tornadoes early in the season tore a swath between Winterset and Chariton. Tragically, seven people were killed and dozens of lives were upended by the widespread damage to homes and cars.
One of the haunting images from the storm toll was the charming family portrait of Michael and Kuri Bolger and their three young children. The photo showed the couple sitting on the bed of an old truck, with their children looking out the back window of the truck.
The Blue Springs, Mo., family was visiting Kuri’s parents in Winterset when the tornado hit. They all sought refuge in the house’s pantry, but Michael, Kinlee, and Owen were killed, along with Kuri’s mother, Melissa Bazley.
The friends quickly set up 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 totaled $567,600.
The response to the loss of another family in the same storm also brought tears. Jesse Theron Fisher of Chariton was camping south of there with his uncle, Garold Smith, in Red Haw State Park when 170 mph winds blew. They were staying in the trailer because his house had been damaged in a recent fire.
The two friends huddled together in the RV as the tornado passed overhead. Smith then emerged from the rubble and called out to 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 can see. Why couldn’t I have gone with him?
The friends teamed up with a GoFundMe account that raised $26,400 to pay for Fisher’s funeral and provide money for Smith’s future needs.
Bloomfield’s Anne Morgan is one of those unsung heroes that every community is lucky to have. 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 gravitated toward traditional ways of raising money, until her friends encouraged her to try GoFundMe when a family needed financial help for a long overdue home improvement job.
“Had to talk myself into setting up a GoFundMe page,” she later posted. “I was told that this was a better method to reach those far from Davis County and to reach a younger generation. Well, in one day we received $955 towards our goal.”
Save those 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.