FERGUSON, Mo. – Much of the nation watched in horror as police cruisers were flipped, rocks were thrown and dozens of businesses in and near this St. Louis suburb were burned last week in a wave of anger.
And almost immediately, many across the nation were determined to help Ferguson rebuild.
Beginning the morning after the St. Louis County grand jury decision not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson in the death of unarmed teen Michael Brown, a number of online fundraising efforts – some started by benevolent strangers – began popping up.
A week later, hundreds of thousands of dollars have poured into the accounts on behalf of the damaged and burned Ferguson businesses.
In total, almost $500,000 from 12,700 donors has been raised using the GoFundMe website for damaged businesses in Ferguson.
“The many recent campaigns started for Ferguson business owners are shining examples of what can happen when communities come together for a common cause,” said Kelsea Little, a spokeswoman for GoFundMe. “It’s incredibly heartwarming to see so many generous people come together to help these businesses rebuild.”
Internet fundraising has played a central role in the national reaction to the ongoing saga in Ferguson.
Within a day of the public release of Wilson’s name, hundreds of thousands of dollars were donated at fundraisers and online for his legal defense. The Brown family, meanwhile, collected a few thousand dollars in an online fundraiser set up to offset their son’s burial costs and funeral.
So it seemed to make sense that the businesses damaged in the unrest following the grand jury announcement did the same thing.
Soon after his church was burned down, Pastor Carlton Lee knew the first step to rebuilding – well, the second step, after calling his insurers – was to set up an online fundraising page.
“We’re praying and hoping to find the funds to rebuild,” Lee said last week, when the fundraiser had brought in just $2,000. By the end of the week, more than $60,000 had been donated to help him.
And the media has taken note.
CNN and MSNBC have both run several segments profiling several of the businesses, while stories of the resilient store owners have appeared in the New York Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Huffington Post and elsewhere, including The Washington Post.
The news coverage does seem to have helped, with many of the store owners pointing to spikes in donations following articles and cable news segments.
A St. Louis Post-Dispatch image of a sobbing Natalie Dubose in the minutes after her cake shop was vandalized rocketed across the internet.
Among those who saw it was Kristine Froeba, a writer and activist in New Orleans, who immediately called Dubose and asked permission to set up an online fundraising account in her name.
“I found that incredible photo and said: I’m going to help her,” Froeba said.
Meanwhile, another good Samaritan in Miami had begun a second fundraiser for Dubose. Within days, benefactors had poured more than $250,000 into an account for her.
“Everyone just wanted to do something to make this better,” said Froeba, who is helping Dubose send thank-you notes to all 8,000 donors (they’ve gotten 400 down so far). “We’ve just been saying thank you so much to so many people.”
With her coffers overflowing, Dubose is now directing donors to the other 21 online fundraisers for Ferguson businesses.
Among those who Dubose has helped is Juanita Morris, who watched her Fashions R Boutique burn down on live television.
On Monday, the $20,000 goal set for her online fundraising account – set up by a freshman from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill – was surpassed.
“I would like to thank each and every one of you from the bottom of my heart,” Morris wrote in a message to those who had donated to the GoFundMe account in her name. “It’s nice to know that there are people out there like you. All of your support and well wishes has truly made a difference in my life.”
The Queen’s Royal Touch hair salon has been given about $7,700, still well short of the $19,000 its owners are hoping to bring in. Ferguson Market and Liquor – where Brown was captured on video allegedly shoplifting and roughing up a store clerk just minutes before his encounter with Wilson – netted a little more than $30,000, mostly in small donations, in the weeks since the violence.
Over on South Florissant Avenue, where violent clashes with police and fires left several businesses damaged, Cathy and Jerome Jenkins are about halfway to the $20,000 they hope to bring for repairs to their two businesses – Cathy’s Kitchen and J & C BBQ and Blues Restaurant.
The couple has been resilient, reopening Cathy’s Kitchen the day following the chaos. On the board that now covers one of the restaurant’s front windows, a local girl painted a mural that reads: “Love will win.”