COLUMBIA — A locally coordinated, social media-based fundraiser for the Joplin tornado relief effort brought in more than $1 million by Thursday night. All of the money raised so far will go directly to the relief efforts in Joplin.
The fund was initiated by Brent Beshore, owner of Museao, a contemporary event hall on Buttonwood Drive. The cause began with a Facebook group called “Joplin, MO Tornado Recovery," that Beshore created Sunday night.
Beshore, who is also on the board of directors of the Heart of Missouri United Way, was born and raised in Joplin. Tim Rich, executive director of the Heart of Missouri United Way, said Beshore had texted him about a tornado relief fund after the storm hit Joplin on Sunday evening.
Rich said that by the time Beshore visited Rich's office at 10 a.m. Monday, the Facebook page already had more than 40,000 fans.
By Thursday night, the page had nearly 168,000 fans.
"It's crazy this all happened in four days," Rich said.
Rich said Beshore and Pure Marketing Media dropped everything they had scheduled for the week and camped out at the United Way's offices to work on the fundraiser. Museao's grand opening was slated for Thursday night, but the event became a fundraiser for the Joplin relief efforts.
KOMU also wanted to turn the fundraising efforts into a telethon, and Rich said the station did just that — in four days.
"They have been doing this round the clock, which is an amazing commitment," Rich said.
Music played and drinks flowed during the event at Museao, as donations to the fund continued to roll in.
Among the guests present were representatives from Wells Fargo, Sam's Club, the manufacturer Leggett & Platt and members of the MU softball team.
"Looks to me like there were 150 or more people there since 5 p.m., and there's still a healthy crowd here tonight," Rich said Thursday night.
State Sen. Ron Richard, former mayor of Joplin and a family friend of Beshore's, said the donations amounted to more than the group had expected.
"It’s certainly very heartwarming to know that the money is well spent,” Richard said.
Karl Glassman, chief operating officer at Leggett & Pratt, said people could count on Joplin to return the favor when the time comes. He said Leggett & Platt was Joplin's largest employer.
“The incredible generosity is staggering,” Glassman said.
“Money is needed,” said Cathie Glassman, a social worker in Joplin and wife of Karl Glassman.
She expressed concern about the schools in Joplin and the well-being of all the students there.
“We are hoping that people continue to support after two to four weeks," Cathie Glassman said. "But right now we need cold hard cash.”
Columbia Mayor Bob McDavid also videotaped an address to the crowd.
Rich said the fundraising efforts have garnered national attention from media outlets including a Fox News affiliate in Los Angeles, CNN and The New York Times. He said news of the fund traveled as far as Saudi Arabia — a doctor living there called to donate because he has loved ones in Joplin.
"The support is just overwhelming," Rich said.
Donations to the group, United for Joplin, can be made at the Heart of Missouri United Way's website. Donors can also give $10 by texting JOPLIN to 864833.