2020: A year of loss — Fundraising and fursuiting for charity in the midst of a global pandemic — by Joe G. Bear

by Dogpatch Press Staff

Joe Goria (Joe G. Bear) last wrote about the 2019 ALS Walk.

Furries have done annual fundraising for ALS patients and families in honor of Dogbomb, raising several hundred thousand so far.

Charity events canceled: “What A Difference A Year Makes…”

That statement couldn’t have been more truer than THIS year. I don’t believe any of us would have predicted that 2020 would plunge us into a global pandemic not seen in over 100 years, and that our way of life – our ‘normal’ would change so remarkably in a short period of time. To be honest, this year has brought me closer to my own mortality, so I’m grateful to be safe and healthy (so far…)

As the COVID-19 Pandemic hit the United States in early March, affecting all major in-person events from concerts, sporting events and for many of us in “The Fandom,” furmeets and furry conventions – the most devastating casualty of this pandemic have been to people’s jobs and their own livelihoods. We all know someone or an entire family who has suffered greatly these last few months, and it’s heartbreaking. We should also mention those who are employed in our healthcare system, especially furries who have worked under extremely difficult circumstances in hospitals across our nation. “Thank You” for your dedication and service.

Even with the promise of important vaccines being rolled out this month and well into 2021, the after-effects of 2020 will still be with us for some time – especially for one major aspect of our society that can never take a backseat. Charities and Non-Profit organizations like March of Dimes & The ALS Association have been hit particularly hard as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the cancellations of in-person donor drives and events like “The March for Babies” in Los Angeles and “The Walk to End ALS” in Orange County, CA.

Hardships inspire a personal commitment to help.

The “2019 Walk to End ALS” was Joe Bear’s first major charitable event. The success of Furries coming together to remember and support one of our own, Tony ‘Dogbomb’ Barrett was the light that brought a purpose to fursuiting beyond a weekend convention – an ‘enlightening’ that gave me determination to continue the cause. It would be supporting the amazing folks at The ALS Association, and the upcoming 20th Anniversary “Walk to End ALS” in November, 2020. Plans were being finalized for the event when the COVID-19 pandemic hit the U.S. in mid-March.

One recent Gallup poll surveyed giving trends since the pandemic began. Though donations from corporate sponsors and foundations have increased, donations from individuals and families have plummeted as result of financial concerns and/or job loss. Approximately 40% of Americans reported direct financial hardship as a result of the pandemic.

Many charitable organizations like The ALS Association were affected by the abrupt cancellations of spring and summer events. As the pandemic raged through a late summer surge – “The Walk to End ALS” would change from an ‘in-person’ walk to a ‘virtual’ event online. The loss of in-person events can be very disappointing to any charitable organization, as it affects overall financial goal planning for much-needed services to those suffering from this deadly disease. (ALS is also named ‘Lou Gehrig’s Disease’ after the beloved Major League Baseball player who succumbed to it in 1941.) The work of The ALS Association can never take a break, as their services are always needed for people suffering from ALS – especially during a pandemic. It has to be extremely stressful not just for the patient, but for the families and loved ones involved.

I felt THIS year was the one year to get more involved to really make a difference, to make a larger impact than 2019.

November 2020 at the ALSAOCC in Southern California

Encouragement from a friend outside the fandom.

I was more fortunate than others who had experienced job loss, as I work for a major telecommunications giant that kept the offices open. We were deemed ‘essential,’ and believe me – we were quite busy taking calls since March for customers needing ‘Fiber Internet’ installed in their homes, as many would be ‘working from home.’ I would work alongside my co-worker, carpool partner and friend, Gale Ballard.

I knew Gale for almost 20 years, dating back to when I started working for the company, then known as Pacific Bell. We both had a lot in common that surprised me. We were both proud graduates of Long Beach State University (B.A. 1994), and we were involved in Associated Students and Greek Life on Campus; I was Acacian (Acacia Fraternity) and Gale was in Zeta Phi Beta Sorority. Ballard supported March of Dimes with a passion – each Spring I would donate to her fundraiser for “The March for Babies” drive as she walked alongside her friends, family and sorority ‘sisters’. Gale was my ‘best friend’ at the office, she kept me smiling and she was one of the first to accept me as a ‘Furry’ with no judgment in 2014 (after I explained to her with facts about our Fandom). She supported me completely being dressed up as a ‘Big Bear’ for The 2019 ALS Walk.

Gale Ballard admired ‘The Fandom’ for it’s generous contributions to various charities, especially when I shared a YouTube video of Furry Weekend Atlanta 2019’s closing ceremonies. It highlighted the convention Chair ‘Tiger Paw’ presenting a supersized large check donation of $50,000.00 for FWA’s designated charity “The Conservator’s Center.” Gale realized Furries were ‘pretty cool’ after hanging out with me, and admitted that she LOVED all the colorful ‘costumes. She wanted to attend a local SoCal Furmeet one day and meet some of my pals. She was a good friend of mine.

Shocking and unexpected news.

As we both live in Los Angeles County, and our job is in Orange County – Gale and I would often carpool to and from work. In mid-October, while I was on a week-long vacation Gale carpooled with another L.A. Area employee into work. Later that week, our office was hit with a Coronavirus ‘super-spreader’ event, one that affected 46 employees and managers. Gale got sick while I was away. By the time I returned to the office on October 19th, she messaged me that she wasn’t feeling well and would stay home.

We would never carpool again.

As the office outbreak forced me to take a vacation day on Friday, October 23rd to see my doctor and perform my first COVID-19 test in Torrance, the events of late Friday would change my life and break my heart. Our company announced the Tustin office would close for two weeks, through Monday, November 9th. Late Friday, I received a call from a good friend of mine and Gale’s, ‘George’ who worked with us for 19 years and recently retired. He didn’t mince words to me, and told me the somber news that Gale had suddenly passed away. I was in complete shock! I’d never expected to hear this news, as I just chatted with her the day before. I couldn’t believe it, I was in denial.

Gale was my ‘sunshine,’ she was there for me, supported me and cared for me. She was there for me when my Mom died in June, 2018 and supported me with my involvement with The ALS Association. She helped me get the word out for The 2019 ALS Walk, and helped gather donations from fellow coworkers. Gale Ballard was a very loving person that I miss every day. On November 4th, I personally said my “goodbye” to Gale at a pre-funeral viewing in Long Beach, attended by many. I finally broke down and cried. We also lost another employee a few days later, Darrell Harper. This was a nightmare for all of us who work in the office, because we are close knit… like family.

Help from a community to rise above losses.

Gale Ballard’s sudden death made me determined to finish my goal: to participate in this year’s event by raising more donations than last year.

I knew fundraising in 2020 would be more challenging than 2019, as the pandemic had made it difficult to personally meet and talk to my fellow co-workers. Approximately 50% of my office would eventually ‘work from home.’ Many who did donate last year were simply not there, including those in the business department and certain Human Resources staff. Also, due to social distancing, we were not allowed to mingle and or be near other employees.

So, I used the power of social media messaging apps like Telegram to communicate to certain co-workers and retirees to help, and they came through! Nancy Hinh in HR, CWA 9510 VP Peter O’Brien, and even my former co-worker and ‘our’ good friend George Fields came in with generous donations. I say ‘Thank You!’ My family came through too, especially my Dad who has supported me graciously the last two years. He’s truly my ‘best friend’ and I love him very much!

Lastly, I can’t forget my friends in the Furry Fandom who came through with their support – Including those who donated in larger amounts this year, which was beyond AMAZING! One of my dearest friends in this fandom is a Blue Wolf from L.A. named “Truce,” who donated a whopping $800.00 to TEAM TONY and I’m forever grateful for his generosity. Truce knew ‘Dogbomb’ like many of us, and wanted to make a big difference this year. Well, he certainly did! San Francisco Furries ‘Rasher Boar’ & ‘Blue Badger’ chimed in with a hefty donation. There was a generous donation from a fellow Bear that I got to finally meet (and Hug) in Dallas during Texas Furry Fiesta 2020 just two weeks before the pandemic – Zio Bear. Thank You! Even our team captain, Trip E. Collie received multiple donations from “Blue,” totalling $1800.00 for TEAM TONY. “Blue” also donated $800.00 for the microphone set that helped with the virtual broadcast for those who couldn’t attend the “ALS Walk & Roll” Drive-Up by car. These were Furries who delivered the difference, despite the pandemic.

THIS IS WHAT WE DO, THIS IS WHAT FURRIES DO – HELP OTHERS! This couldn’t be more truer than at a pivotal time like today, in the midst of a global pandemic.

Rolling out a new kind of event.

In mid-October, The ALS Association of Orange County came up with an interesting concept. ALSOC Chapter Development & Operations Coordinator Denise Greek expanded the planned virtual ‘Walk’ . It would include a “Drive-Thru” event in front of The ALS Association offices in Tustin, and very close to my office. ALSOC is located in a business park across from METROLINK Tustin train station with expanded driveways to accommodate ‘Tent Stations’ for easy drive-up to pickup merchandise and an ‘Exit Tent’ to provide bagged lunches. I thought this was a great idea. There would be live music from a local DJ, prize giveaways, and above all – I could fursuit in a safe matter while attendees would remain in their vehicles. It would be my way to be involved in a ‘in-person’ setting while putting a ‘furry smile’ for the drive-up attendees.

On Saturday, November 14th we had “The 2020 Walk & Roll to Defeat ALS” Drive-Thru event in Tustin. It was something I’d never experienced before, but it was fun & memorable.

I arrived early with my friends & ‘Fursuit Handlers’ Ken Murata & Guadalupe ‘Junior’. With the blessing from Denise Greek & ALSOC Executive Director Natalie Villegas – I was able to use one of the storage rooms to ‘Suit Up.’ Our team captain ‘Trip E. Collie’ did not fursuit (I love his fursuit, FYI) as he handled the virtual broadcast of the event. He was hidden ‘Behind The Scenes’ handling master control inside the offices, while presenter Bonnie Yu and cameraman Dave Hsiung would report on the festivities outside. Tents were positioned across the long business park driveway near the ALSOC Offices. The main ALS Association Donor Table was near the front of the office entrance, alongside the DJ booth near the drive-thru ‘Balloon Archway’ that would identify the finish line.

I wouldn’t be the only fursuiter in attendance during “Walk & Roll to Defeat ALS.” My good friend and someone who was very close to Tony ‘Dogbomb’ Barrett named “Whiskey Foxtrot” joined me. We were ‘The Mighty Furry Duo” throughout the event, as we both waved and cheered on as attendees passed under the Balloon Archway in their vehicles. Later we handed out bagged lunches at the ‘Exit Tent’ to attendees in their cars. Imagine trying to hold a lunch tray wearing bear paws with hard resin claws – it was a challenge I must admit.

Success in excess

After fursuiting for three hours, dancing away to the music while waving and thanking so many attendees in their vehicles, our work was done. I had a fun time, participating in something that was quite different from the ordinary but also very important. We weren’t going to let the pandemic stop us from showing how much we care for those in need. ZOOM virtual app was nice, but the drive-up charity concept was a great alternative and safe too.

I was humbled when I got so many ‘THANK YOU’s from people. The smiles from all over appreciating us for just being there were quite touching. I especially enjoyed being in ‘selfie’ shots alongside Whiskey. It’s something I’ll cherish for a long time.

In the end, we held our hands and paws up high! The ALS Association of Orange County held a successful hybrid virtual/drive-thru charity event with safety in mind. Thanks to my donors, I was able to not only meet my modest goal of $1000.00, I was able to exceed my goal by 161.5% with a total of $1615.00! I crushed my 2019 numbers by almost $700! TEAM TONY was a small, but MIGHTY group of 9 Furries led by the amazing Trip E. Collie – and exceeded it’s goal by 117.7% with a grand total of $5885.00!

I’m proud to be involved with The ALS Association and looking forward to 2021 and beyond, post-pandemic.

‘Dogbomb’ and Gale would’ve been proud.

9 furries joined Team Tony for the 2020 fundraiser.

Joe’s page

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