Sheldon is the man behind the popular UpliftingNews subreddit, a forum on the news aggregation site Reddit. It links to articles from around the world intended to make the reader feel uplifted, inspired or generally better about the state of humanity.
What started on a whim now has millions of visitors daily and a community of users eager to share, comment on and absorb good news. It’s so highly regarded that Reddit made it one of the default subreddits users are automatically subscribed to when they start an account.
Initially, Sheldon, who lives in San Francisco, but prefers to keep other details of his life private and separate from his online role, did most of the curating on his subreddit. But the page received a lot of attention after he put out a “call to arms” in June 2012 to rally around the 68-year-old widowed middle school bus monitor, Karen Klein, shown on video enduring vicious taunts and harassment from kids. “Let’s figure out ways to show her that there are still good people out there,” he wrote. Someone saw it and started an online fundraiser to send Klein on a vacation. It raised more than $700,000.
“You just knew there was enough outrage, justice would be served for these kids, but it was more of: ‘Here, I had a community that cared about goodness and kindness. Let’s rally this community around her,’ ” Sheldon said. “It was about reaching out and supporting her.”
Sheldon created the subreddit after reading about the Miami cannibal who chewed the face off a homeless man in May 2012. He felt he needed some counterprogramming to offset the horror of that story. But when he Googled “good Samaritan,” all he found were stories about bad things that happened to the people when they did good things. He said he wanted to create a space where people were “always able to access a feel-good story when they needed one.”
In the five years since, he has only used the platform a handful of times to call people to action or raise money for a deserving person. He has kept his goals modest. For instance, Sheldon created an online fundraiser to raise $2,000 for a man in Cape Town to build a canopy over a makeshift gym he created as a place for “gangsters” to get out their aggression rather than turn to violence. In another case, he used it to fix a pickup truck of a man who cut a hole in his vehicle to rescue a kitten trapped inside.
So when he posted a “call to arms” for the Chicago victim, an 18-year-old with schizophrenia who was tormented and abused on a live Facebook video, Sheldon initially asked only for $5,000, a token just to show the family that people cared.
“It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these in this subreddit, but for those of you who have seen the recent horrific facebook live video of the young special needs victim tied up and getting tortured by 4 others, your immediate reaction is complete disgust and your second reaction is to want to help this young man,” Sheldon wrote when he posted the appeal late last week.
When that first goal was easily met, he then increased it to $10,000. Within a day, donors blew past it, and then overwhelmingly exceeded it. As of Wednesday morning, 5,000 people from all 50 states and many countries donated nearly $160,000 for the victim and his family through a GoFundMe page.
Sheldon has been in touch with the victim’s family, he said, and Neal Strom, an attorney speaking for the family, told the Chicago Sun-Times, “My clients are overwhelmed with the warm, kind generosity of perfect strangers. It just came out of the clear blue sky. . . . It shows that there are good people out there after all [the victim] has been through.”
Strom described the family as working class with modest means, and said the six-figure sum will help provide the teen with better mental-health treatments both to deal with the stress of the incident and also his underlying illness.
The family has also set up a post-office box for people to send gifts and cards to the family that, according to Strom, has been flooded. Sheldon has fielded messages from people offering anything from service dogs to legal advice on setting up a trust so the money raised does not negatively affect the victim’s financial disability assistance.
The family members also told Sheldon that they are reading all the compassionate and heartfelt comments left on the GoFundMe page.
“There are a lot of people who felt helpless when they saw that story and this gave them an opportunity to do something about it,” Sheldon said. “This has struck a chord for a lot of people.”
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