Gabi Walker-Aguilar received two phone calls this month that changed her life.
The first, on Feb. 3, was from a panic-stricken employee of Walker’s business, 4Suns Fresh Juice, telling Walker that the shop was on fire.
“When we were on the phone,” Walker-Aguilar recalls, “I could hear the sirens and the emotion in her voice.”
The second call came a few days later, from a friend, Ande Bruenig, offering to help Walker rebuild, by setting up a GoFundMe campaign, to raise money.
And that’s a pretty typical scenario of how a crowdfunding drive gets started.
Somebody’s in trouble, and somebody else, usually a friend or colleague, sets up a way to raise money through an online donation platform.
Bruening, creator of the Facebook page “Support Evanston Shops, Salons, and Studios,” and founder of “Our Evanston” magazine, learned that 4Suns was significantly under-insured, and needed a lot more than insurance would cover to fix the devastated store.
“Gabi and her energy and power are crucial to Evanston,” Bruenig noted on the GoFundMe page that she established for 4Suns.
“I am confident thata we can work together,” to help Walker-Aguilar “literally and figuratively rise from the current ashes into a beautiful new sun.”
The campaign has already exceeded its original $15,000 goal,and is now hoping to hit $30,000.
Currently there are 75 active GoFundMe campaigns in Evanston, close to one fund drive per every 1,000 residents in the city.
Some of the others are for Coffee Lab Evanston, the Evanston Chamber Orchestra, the Chicago and Main Baristas Solidarity Fund (support for a unionizing effort), and American Legion Hall Post 42 (in need of a new elevator).
One of the most successful GoFundMe drives made it possible for Bookends and Beginnings to move to a new location after a rent increase at the previous site.
Bookstore owner Nina Barrett says the campaign, which so far has rasied $110,000 and is ongoing, was “critical” in making the move a reality.
Bookends customer Diane Peachin was one of the donors.
Peachin says “giving money to them was a joy,” to help keep the bookstore in business.
While there are a number of crowdfunding platforms, GoFundMe is the most popular.
The organization says since its founding in 2010, it has raised $25 billion from 200 million individual donations.
GoFundMe does not take a percentage of the total raised. There is a 2.9% processing fee, similar to what a credit card company would charge, and it is possible to leave a voluntary tip for the company, but it’s not required.
Spokesperson Ari Romio tells Evanston Now that GoFundMe is a “reflection of society.”
It’s a way for “strangers to raise their hand” and contribute to a cause or person or business they believe in.
“People don’t know how to help, but they want to help,” Romio says.
Besides raising money, Romio notes that GoFundMe also has “an emotional quotient,” where donors can feel a connection to whomever they are assisting.
As with almost anything involving fundraising, there are those who may try to scam the system.
New York Rep. George Santos, who has lied about his family, his education, and many other supposed activities and accomplishments, allegedy took several thousand dollars from a GoFundMe drive set up to help a disabled veteran get surgery for his dog.
However, GoFundMe says fraud is extremely rare.
Romio says the platform has a “Global Trust and Safety Team,” which vets applications, and there is also a “giving guarantee,” where donors can get a full refund “if something is not right.”
Most donations to individual and small business campaigns are not big dollar amounts.
The largest single contribution to the 4Suns drive has been $250, with most ranging from $20 to $100.
“I don’t know all of the names on the list,” Aguilar-Walker says.
“A lot of people are just helping” because they were customers, or they had heard about the fire.
“It’s such a blessing,” she adds.
She hopes to reopen 4Suns this summer.
“Every donation is a gift that I’m grateful for.”
By the way, when Evanston Now started researching this story a couple of weeks ago, a GoFundMe spokesperson told us there were 74 fund drives in Evanston.
But since then, friends of local business owner Yun Park have set up a GoFundMe campaign to cover her medical recovery expenses after she was struck by a hit-and-run-driver on Chicago Avenue at Dempster on Feb. 8.
So now, there are 75 GoFundMe campaigns in town.
And you can certainly expect more.