TORONTO – You could call it a case of empathy gone viral.
When a Toronto man stumbled upon a YouTube video of a 68-year-old bus monitor in New York State being bullied to tears by a group of middle schoolers, he felt compelled to act, triggering an online fundraising campaign which surpassed his expectations and raised thousands.
Now, all Max Sidorov wants is for the outpouring of goodwill to continue in some way.
“When it happened, I was just like, how can I make something even bigger come about, something even more positive,” he says.
In September, the 26-year-old was able to present a cheque for just over $700,000 to Karen Klein, after donations flooded in from around the world to send the grandmother of eight on a vacation.
The tremendous response to what was his first fundraising effort has prompted Sidorov to kickstart two new campaigns which he hopes will see similar levels of success.
In March, he hopes to accompany Quinton Aaron – who starred as a football player in the 2009 film, “The Blind Side” – on an international anti-bullying tour connected with the actor’s foundation. The campaign hopes to interact with victims and their bullies in an effort to promote acts of kindness and pinpoint the issues that trigger the bullying.
Closer to home, Sidorov is also launching his own website – lovedeeder.com – which he hopes will be a social media platform to help people participate in or start up fundraising and charitable efforts.
“People can post comments, get points. It’s going to be like competitive do-gooding,” says Sidorov, who has poured his own savings into the project.
The website is partly a product of the intense feedback he received in the aftermath of his fundraising campaign for Klein. Sidorov recalls being bombarded with emails asking for his advice on everything from financial issues to health matters.
“Hundreds of people ask for help and it’s just physically impossible to help everyone. I do the best I can,” he says. “This is why I want to take this bigger, because everyone needs a voice.”
Sidorov is all too aware, however, of the challenges of sustaining charitable momentum.
“That’s always on my mind, how will I be able to keep this issue in people’s minds and at the forefront,” he says, adding that the connectivity offered by the Internet is a boon. “The social aspect is hugely important.”
Even as his projects grow bigger in scope, however, combating bullying remains at the core of Sidorov’s efforts.
“It is something that hits close to home,” he admits. “When I came from Ukraine to Canada, I was bullied in school…I was always a small kid, I was picked on.”
Years later, witnessing someone being taunted makes Sidorov feel he has to act.
“It was just a spur of the moment thing,” he says of his decision to start a campaign on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo after watching the clip of Klein crying as she was being tormented with insults.
“I felt really sad for this lady. I couldn’t believe it. And I was like, you know what? She doesn’t deserve that.”
Realizing how big a response a fundraising effort as simple as his could generate is what Sidorov now wants to share.
“If you have a good idea, if you’re passionate about this idea, just go out and do it,” he says. “If the idea comes from a place of love and kindness, all the doors will open.”