After 106-year-old Virginia McLaurin danced her way into the hearts of millions, inquiries poured in from people around the world who wanted to give something back to the woman whose enthusiasm for life inspired them.
When The Washington Post filmed her watching the viral video of her joyously meeting the Obamas at the White House on an iPhone, readers wrote in wanting to donate (or take up a collection to get her) a smartphone or tablet so she could relive the experience again and again. She got an offer to meet the Harlem Globetrotters. Another group wanted to take her on a rickshaw ride.
Last week, D.C. lawyer Karen Mandel visited McLaurin at her Northwest Washington home to give her an iPad already loaded with the White House video, the Bible, several novels and photos. Mandel brought along her 12-year-old daughter, Sarah, who showed McLaurin how to use it.
“When I saw the video and read the article that she hadn’t even gotten a chance to see it herself I felt bad because so many other people had seen her video and she didn’t even know how much of an impact she has made on me and other people,” Sarah said. “Seeing her happy made my day and I wanted her to be able to feel happy when she watched the video not on other people’s devices but on her own. I think it’s great just to be able to help someone directly even if it’s something little.”
Now several people close to McLaurin have set up a fundraising page with an initial goal of $50,000, to give the hundreds of people who have asked about helping her a place to donate. The page on YouCaring.com went live Tuesday afternoon.
“This donations page was created so that we can all help her have the resources she needs to live comfortably and to continue her active role in the community,” the page says.
McLaurin, the daughter of sharecroppers in the South who lived half her life under Jim Crow laws, remains humble and gracious. Proudly independent, she’s accustomed to taking care of herself.
She lives alone in a small, one-bedroom unit in an old apartment building on the same block she’s lived on since 1939. She fills her days with community service. She still volunteers 40 hours a week at a local school as a foster grandmother and is an outspoken advocate with the Latino Economic Development Center, a local tenants rights organization.
But McLaurin, like many elderly people, lives meagerly. In 2014, her apartment was infested with bedbugs and her landlord did nothing about it for years. Her building was sold once, and is being sold again, making her future there uncertain. The stairs she must climb every day to her front door are uneven. She lives mainly off food stamps and a delivery of processed, packaged groceries. She doesn’t have a cellphone. She still uses public transportation but she prefers to walk.
The extra income could mean moving to a nicer, more stable apartment that is wheelchair accessible while staying in her neighborhood to be close to her church. It will give her the ability to order fresh, wholesome meals, own her own cellphone, and the freedom to call for a cab or Uber if needed. And while her health is fine now, it would provide some additional security for any future health problems.
Most importantly, said her friend Deborah Menkart, who helped make the White House meeting happen, it would ensure that McLaurin could continue to “age with dignity.”
(This post has been updated.)
Correction: An earlier version said McLaurin was “unaccustomed” to taking care of herself. That was a typo.