Mom helps raise $7,000 for school janitors who risked coronavirus exposure

Brooke Thomas said the fundraiser, which started in a private Facebook group, went "locally viral."
Woman in the office with cleaning implements
A fundraiser quickly raised thousands of dollars for janitors cleaning a school district in Vermont. Getty Images stock
March 14, 2020, 4:48 AM +07 / Source: TODAY
By Kerry Breen

It's been said that in times of crisis, people should always look for the helpers — and the coronavirus pandemic is no different. Even as worries about the new virus continue to rise, communities are coming together to support each other.

In Williston, Vermont, public schools were shut down for a deep cleaning after it came to light that a staff member might have been exposed to the virus. On Monday morning, mom of four Brooke Thomas spotted a discussion thread about the closure in a Facebook group for parents at the school. She commented that it was important to thank the janitors and facility staff.

"They were potentially exposing themselves to this virus and to harmful chemicals," Thomas told TODAY Parents. "I think the comment made everyone realize that those were the people going right into it. That kind of started it."

In a comment, mom Brooke Thomas implored parents in her community to think about the janitorial workers cleaning local schools.In a comment, mom Brooke Thomas implored parents in her community to think about the janitorial workers cleaning local schools.Courtesy of Brooke Thomas

The idea to keep the janitorial staff in mind quickly evolved into a fundraiser, which Thomas organized through Facebook.

"There's 600 people in that specific private group," Thomas said. "I started the fundraiser thinking that maybe half of the members would give a couple bucks."

The fundraiser had an initial goal of $200 — but it surpassed that amount in less than an hour. By the time Thomas woke up the next morning, she saw that people had raised more than $2,000.

"I didn't realize that when you make a fundraiser like that in a private group, people can post it to their personal pages," Thomas explained. "It just kind of took off. It's a lot easier to spread kindness right now and be mindful that everyone's in the same boat."

By Friday afternoon, the fundraiser had received more than $7,000 in donations. Thomas said she and other parents are trying to determine the best way to disburse the money to the janitors.

"We've gotten a positive response from the school and the community, as well as people who have seen it on Facebook," she said. "There's a lot of worry and panic and it's important to think about a lot of people right now."

Thomas said she's decided to keep the fundraiser going. While schools in her area are still open, she said she hopes fundraisers like this one might come "the norm" across the country.

"A friend of mine started her own fundraiser in Massachusetts," Thomas said. "My hope is that this act of kindness will go viral across the country. ... I think these good-hearted, kind things are what people need right now."

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