GoFundMe a go-to for struggling businesses, families, pet owners

Tribune Content Agency

SAN DIEGO — Some are to help laid-off restaurant workers or struggling breweries. Others are to keep dance studios open. Several are for smaller, personal expenses such as veterinarian bills.

But the online fundraisers all have one thing in common. Each of the GoFundMe posts are from a person, business or organization hurting financially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hundreds of local relief efforts related to COVID-19 can be found on GoFundMe by searching “San Diego COVID” or “San Diego coronavirus,” and most appear to be aimed at helping small businesses such as restaurants and shops struggling during the pandemic.

The same is true nationwide, according to a report released Thursday by GoFundMe, which found 60% of its COVID-related fundraisers in the U.S. were for small businesses. Worldwide, COVID-related fundraisers on the site have generated about $625 million, according to the report.

A Small Business Relief Initiative created by GoFundMe in March showed many fundraisers going beyond their goals. A drive to keep San Francisco’s historic City Lights Books in business surpassed its $300,000 goal and raised $495,000, while in Los Angeles, supporters of the beloved Amoeba Music have raised $293,600 toward a goal of $400,000.

The fundraisers have been more modest locally, but do show patrons want to keep their favorite taverns and restaurants in business.

In June, supporters of the Black Cat Bar in City Heights launched a fundraiser to help owner Matt Parker keep his business afloat after it was closed by a public health order in March. So far, more than $8,000 has been raised toward a $10,000 goal.

Park & Rec in University Heights, Dobson’s Bar and Restaurant in downtown San Diego and Chiquita’s Mexican Restaurant

in Fairmont Park are among the other restaurants and bars that were quick to organize fundraisers following the shutdown. Chiquita’s raised $6,400 toward its $10,000 goal, but is temporarily closed.

In Bankers Hill, Parc Bistro-Brasserie general manager Samantha Scholl created a “virtual tip jar” to help her 27 employees in March and raised about $11,000.

“It was amazing,” Scholl said about the fundraiser. “The community support was overwhelming.”

As a fine-dining French restaurant, Parc Bistro-Brasserie was not prepared to switch to takeout-only service when the shutdown was ordered, and the four-year old business closed for about two weeks while Scholl and the chef reworked their menu.

Scholl said about 80% of her customers are regulars, and many chipped in to help her staff. They also bought about $17,000 in gift cards to use when the restaurant reopened, which Scholl said helped keep the business afloat.

“I’ve been in this industry 27 years, and I have never in my life been so blessed with a community like I have right now,” she said.

The GoFundMe report released Thursday showed more than 9 million donations to 150,000 fundraisers globally have generated $625 million for causes related to COVID-19.

Locally, the pages show both the plight of people affected by the pandemic and the generosity of others who want to help them.

Some are heart-breaking, such as the post from Priscilla Ortega, who wrote that she was raising money for the funeral of her grandfather, Eduardo Lopez, who died of COVID-19 in June. The money was needed to transport his body to a burial plot in Baja, she wrote.

Others are inspiring. Fuel the Frontline has used GoFundMe to raise $77,000 to buy meals for local health care workers, supporting both the workers and area restaurants. It’s just one of several local fundraisers aimed at showing thanks to health care workers.

In another successful fundraiser, $110,000 has been raised to benefit San Diego’s arts and culture community.

“Everybody who is an artist is unemployed right now,” organizer Lee Ann Kim said.

Local artists were invited to apply for $1,000 grants between Aug. 26 and Sept. 15, and 214 submissions were received. The applications will be reviewed by the end of September, with funds distributed in October through a partnership with the nonprofit Pacific Arts Movement.

Kim said an earlier fundraiser had raised $250,000 with donations from large donors, private foundations and other sources, with the money going to small arts organizations.

The latest round, which includes $60,000 from a fundraiser launched on another site and $25,000 from the San Diego Foundation, will go directly to artists.

Kim said Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities have been disproportionately affected by the outbreak, so the fundraiser will focus on helping artists in those groups. Because GoFundMe pages are easy to share, Kim said the fundraiser also is helping to raise awareness of those artists.

“This is one of the first times greater San Diego has been asked to support BIPOC artists,” she said. “This was as much an awareness campaign as a relief fund.”

In July, the San Diego Brewers Guild launched a fundraiser that so far has netted $16,000 toward an original goal of $10,000.

Guild Executive Director Paige McWey Acres said San Diego City Councilman Chris Cate and county Supervisor Jim Desmond have partnered with them to create a Breweries Experiencing Economic Roadblocks (BEER) Fund.

McWey Acres said two local breweries, Escondido Brewing Company and Iron Fist in Vista, have permanently closed because of the shutdown. Others are trying to survive with reduced capacity because of health restrictions, and money from the fundraiser will help them stay afloat.

Guild board members recently met to discuss how to best use the funds to help their 125 members, and donations are still coming in.

“We’ll work with our members to see the best way we can support them,” she said. “We want to make sure the money is the most-helpful to their businesses at this time.”

Some fundraisers have much smaller goals, but still show the toll the pandemic has taken on individuals.

Among pet owners who turned to GoFundMe for help, Finn Paige of San Diego raised about $900 for medical care for her Chihuahua, Stella. She also wrote that she had lost a major contract job because of the pandemic.

“She’s my best friend who goes with me everywhere,” Paige wrote.

“I lost my dad this past November and I can’t imagine losing my best friend right now,” she wrote, adding that any money not used for vet bills would be donated to San Diego families affected by COVID-19.

Chris Mok had been working as a Lyft driver and was making payments on a car he had just bought when the coronavirus hit.

“I am searching for alternative ways to earn money, but I am at a point where I am asking for help,” he wrote. So far, he’s raised about $1,300.

Aspiring director Teija Purvis of San Diego was preparing to start shooting the short film “Maraschino Cherry” when the coronavirus hit. Purvis lost a paid internship that would have funded the shoot, but made up the $600 lost through GoFundMe.

Unfortunately, the GoFundMe pages also show that sometimes the efforts are not enough to keep a business or organization going.

Troy’s Family Restaurant in Clairemont launched a GoFundMe page, but closed in April after 46 years because it could not pay its bills during the shutdown.

Another fundraiser was launched to reopen Ballet Folklorico Real de San Diego, which closed because the family-owned school could not pay rent after losing its student fees during the pandemic. So far, the fundraiser has fallen short of its $20,000 goal and has only generated about $1,700.

Culture Shock Dance resumed its dance classes with fewer students Aug. 31, but still is raising money. So far, it has raised $56,358 toward its $150,000 goal.

“While we would love nothing more than to offer you another 17 years of our dance programs, we have approached the final weeks of operating your ‘Second Home,’” its fundraising page read in a plea to help the studio make it through another month. “Funding is needed as soon as possible so we can plan appropriately for October.”

The new GoFundMe report showed California had the nation’s fifth-highest number of GoFundMe pages for COVID-relief.

March showed the greatest number of fundraisers launched, but new ones have continued daily for months. The fundraisers dwarf other fundraisers held for Australian Wildfire and Hurricane Harvey relief in both size and length of time.

About 60% in the U.S. were to support small businesses such as restaurants and shops, and 19% were for art, daycare and school supplies.

Fundraisers to provide frontline workers with personal protection equipment accounted for 9% of the fundraisers, and 7% were aimed at providing food and monetary relief.

Another 3% were launched to pay for medical expenses, and 2% raised money for funerals and to support bereaved families left behind by a victim of COVID-19.


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