Al Bonner hasn’t let COVID-19 prevent him from giving back to the community.
Bonner, owner of Gene’s Beer Garden, launched a fundraiser on his Facebook page this week in celebration of his 65th birthday. His initial goal was to raise $1,000 for Empty Bowls Monongalia, an organization working to provide resources and assistance to local agencies that aid individuals and families facing food insecurity.
In less than four hours, he had surpassed his original goal.
“I thought, well, the Facebook fundraiser things, they tell you to update your goal,” Bonner said. “So, I put it to $2,000. By the next morning, I had $2,000.”
Once he reached his second goal, Bonner raised the post’s goal to $3,000. Within hours, Bonner once again surpassed the goal, with over 70 people having donated.
This year was not Bonner’s first time contributing to Empty Bowls Monongalia. For the past two years, Bonner has held a John Lennon Tribute show at his bar as a fundraiser for the organization. Bonner said both events raised over $1,000.
Due to COVID-19, the annual tribute show was not possible this past year. After seeing others posting fundraisers on Facebook for their birthdays, Bonner thought it would be the perfect opportunity to give back to an organization he values.
“[It] is a great organization, they do a lot of great things and it takes a lot of money for them to handle this,” Bonner said. “I figured any money we could donate would be good since we couldn’t do the actual show.”
Bonner said although an indoor tribute show was not possible during the winter months, he hopes to start planning an outdoor show in the spring or summer months of this year as another fundraiser.
“Times are tough and a lot of people haven’t been working,” Bonner said. “For people to still be willing to give it’s a great thing.”
The Rev. Al Pritchard, president of the Empty Bowls Monongalia board of directors, said the money raised by Bonner will go towards grant funding, which is distributed to over two dozen programs and agencies that combat food insecurity in the area.
“Empty Bowls Monongalia exists solely to fund feeding programs here in this county,” he said.
Bonner’s fundraiser comes before the organization’s biggest fundraising event of the year, the Empty Bowls soup and bread luncheon, which draws about 2,000 people each year. As a COVID-19 precaution, this year’s luncheon will be a drive-thru event from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Feb. 27 at Mylan Park.
At this year’s event, packaged cold soups will be available for those who attend. Tickets to the event cost a minimum donation of $15, and can be purchased online, from local retail partners, or at the event.
Pritchard said especially because of COVID-19, fundraising continues to be essential. He said the goals of Empty Bowls Monongalia would not be possible without people like Bonner.
“Without the thousands of people in the county who support Empty Bowls, we would never be able to do what it is we are attempting to do,” he said.
For those interested in contributing, donations can be made to Empty Bowls Monongalia by visiting ebmon.org.