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If sportswriter Andy Larsen writes his autobiography one day, he just might have to title it, ‘The Accidental Philanthropist’.
That’s because when Larsen, who covers basketball for the Salt Lake Tribune, inadvertently found himself the recipient of a $55,000 Venmo bonanza, he used the money to help families in need for the holidays.
The story begins just before Thanksgiving—with SpongeBob SquarePants.
Larsen’s mom called to give him a head’s up that she’d just come across the distinctive yellow container he used as a kid for stashing loose coins in his bedroom and wondered if he might want to come to fetch it.
The chunk of change amounted to over $165. Larsen, feeling in the holiday spirit, decided to donate the booty to folks who could really use a few extra dollars this time of year and put the word out to his 27,000 Twitter followers:
“So I had a big jar of coins hanging around,” he tweeted. “I went to the bank today & had them counted. $164.84. Rather than keeping it, I want to give that out to a few people who could use the help for their household’s Thanksgiving dinner or for Christmas presents. My DMs/replies are open.”
As expected, requests for assistance began to roll in—but on the flip side of the proverbial coin, came requests from people who wanted to boost the bounty.
The first arrived from a man named Jeff Jones, who asked Larsen to put up his Venmo deets so he could contribute to the good cause.
“I was shocked that someone would do that,” Larsen told the Washington Post. “Even more amazing was that minutes later, people began retweeting everywhere and sending me money out of the blue. It just exploded.”
Even more amazing? Close to a thousand people donated about $55,000 in a single day.
All in all, Larsen fielded close to 200 requests for help. Figuring out who would get the money and how it would be distributed became his next concern.
“I did my best to verify the stories I was told, typically through conversations with those asking and light social media research. The vast majority checked out,” Larsen explained in The Salt Lake Tribune.
In the end, Larsen gifted people with cash for the holidays as well as funds for car repairs, utility bills, and groceries. And, in addition to sending $200 sums to dozens of families to help them cover medical bills, he gave $10,000 to RIP Medical Debt, a national nonprofit organization that buys debts from collection agencies—and forgives them. (Larsen was told his $10,000 donation would translate to roughly $1 million in debt-reduction relief.)
Also on the unintentional holiday “Nice List” were several local charities that focus on food insecurity, including a $1,000 donation Larsen made to a high school food bank that serves low-income families.
“I cried when he contacted me,” said Meg Thunell from Kearns High School in Salt Lake County. “The compounded goodness of all those people giving without even knowing where it was going restored my faith in people after a long and rough year.”
And it was all thanks to an accidental philanthropist—and SpongeBob SquarePants.