Tom Virgadamo, who grew up in Cold Spring and lives in Beacon, teaches math at Haldane Middle School. He and his family have raised more than $24,000 on Instagram for businesses in the Highlands in response to the COVID-19 shutdown.
How did the fundraiser get started?
My wife and I are teachers, and since we’ve been home with our kids, we realized that we’re not going out and supporting local businesses like we normally would. We thought it would be a good idea to do some authentic work with the kids at home, which we don’t often get a chance to do.
How much did you raise?
For the first round I did something like an old-school Super Bowl betting box. You paid $30 to get a box on the grid and if your name got pulled — my kids drew one number horizontally and another vertically — you picked a business that got $500. We sold 100 boxes and then Mary Beth McDowell of Beacon donated another $250 on top of that, so we gave away $3,250.
For the second round, if you bought an Easter egg, your name went in that egg. We sold $7,050 of eggs and, if we pulled your name, you could donate $500 to one business or $250 each to two. People were also donating live on Instagram, and I put that toward a golden egg, which went for $2,400. The Peparo family in Cold Spring won it and they split the money between The Main Course and the Riverview Restaurant in Cold Spring.
The third round was for Mother’s Day. We had people buy flowers and we put each name in a vase, or you could also put in the name of a business. If we pulled a business, it won $500. If we pulled your name, you could split it between two businesses. We also had a $1,500 flower, which went to Mr. V’s in Beacon, and we had another flower that a colleague won and split among three businesses. That went for over $2,000. The third time around we gave away $13,993 — some to first responders, and well over $10,000 to small businesses.
How many people contributed?
At least 500. People I didn’t even know were sending me money online. I challenged a friend in Connecticut, Tom Molinaski, and he raised $16,000 for his local businesses, and my buddy Bill Lester got $11,000 in Central Jersey. Together, we pulled in more than $50,000. Another friend upstate is working on a fundraiser. We need to keep spreading it around.
How did your kids respond?
They really appreciated the intention of what we were doing, so it became a valuable lesson for them. We wanted to do a good deed and it turned into something special.
How has it gone teaching your Haldane students online?
It’s been challenging. But I’m fortunate to work for a great school district with colleagues and administrators who are passionate about what they do. We’re trying every day to get 100 percent participation, but we understand it’s tough. We’re working all day, every day. You’re checking emails and giving feedback at night and again first thing in the morning. It’s not an ideal situation, but we’re trying to make the best of it.