BOONE — An idea on how to help locals through COVID-19 work stoppages has blossomed into a Facebook group and more than $5,000 raised in two weeks.
Brandon McKeever, a bar manager at Appalachian Mountain Brewery, is using his account on the popular money transfer smartphone app Venmo to spread financial goodwill, one person at a time.
The idea came on March 17, when N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper’s executive order temporarily banning dine-in services for restaurants and bars went into effect.
“Everyone’s initial reaction was panic,” McKeever said.
McKeever said that he made a Facebook post about how he was worried, which sparked conversations with friends who were also affected by the order.
“I came up with the idea of using my own personal Venmo as we head into these unknown times,” McKeever said. “I think I made the post around 4 p.m. and to midnight, I raised $1,000 in the account. It was a lot more than I was expecting.”
McKeever said in the first week, the account was at $5,262 as of April 1 with $4,682 given back. The funds are to help people who make a request for financial assistance. Eventually, the response grew so much that McKeever created the Facebook page “Our Community Listens And Responds!”
“I have also received numerous donations from individuals back (in my original hometown of) Columbia, S.C., who are wanting to support our small community in Boone and surrounding areas,” McKeever said.
The requests have been to pay off bills, oil changes to keep their car going, paying for medications and more.
McKeever also said that he has been a part of the community for the last 15 years and wanted to reach out through his own accounts to people he knows to assure them.
“When I reach out through my personal account, my personal Facebook and personal Instagram, I’m reaching out to people who know me and trust me,” McKeever said. “It’s so it doesn’t seem like it’s someone scamming people.”
One story McKeever shared was about a Deep Gap couple who needed money for their medication, but didn’t have PayPal or Venmo.
“I ended up cashing the money and went to their bank to deposit it … but you have to have a cashier’s check or check to deposit, so I decided to give them cash,” McKeever said. “I called them and we met up … they were basically in tears as it was the exact amount they needed.”
McKeever also honored a request and donation to go shopping for the Hospitality House of Northwest North Carolina.
Another donation went to help the Woodland Harvest Mountain Farm in West Jefferson.
“They were impacted by COVID-19 not being able to hold workshops, which helps pay their land payments,” McKeever said. “They were lacking $725 for the land payment and from other community members and our group, we paid it off within a week.”
“We cannot begin to express our gratitude for your sharing. So many of you jumped right in with our request and we can now in under 24 hours make our land payment next week,” Woodland posted on its Facebook page March 21.
“I had a student whose family was in pretty urgent need of groceries, so I reached out to the Facebook group that Brandon had started to ask for food donations,” said Chelsea Beamer. “Instead, Brandon was able to give me money from the donation pot to go grocery shopping for the family. I was able to get them food to live off of for the next couple weeks and still had a little bit of money left over that I gave them to pocket in case they needed it for something. The mother and family were extremely thankful for the assistance and for how quickly they were able to get food back in their house.”
McKeever said on March 31 that the requests have exceeded the money in hand. Going forward, ideas for fundraising have continued, McKeever said, including doing a virtual 5K charity bike ride and run.
“With us being in the 30-day lockdown, it’s a good time to challenge the community to stay fit and stay active,” McKeever said.
To reach McKeever, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Facebook page “Our Community Listens And Responds!”