IOWA CITY — A former Iowa State University student’s whimsical bid to restock his beer supply by capitalizing on the spotlight of ESPN’s College GameDay had, as of Monday afternoon, amassed over $1.085 million for the University of Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital.
The 24-year-old Cyclone fan behind the “Busch Light supply needs replenished” sign that kick-started a nationwide campaign for sick children said he’s hoping to reach $2 million by the end of the month, when he plans to wrap the impromptu initiative.
“At the halfway point we hit $1 million, so I’d like to see $2 million total,” Carson King said.
“But I really don’t have any goals. Everything I’ve set, it’s just been shattered — all my expectations.”
When King hoisted his sign scrawled with an appeal for Venmo contributions to his beer supply, the Altoona resident expected “someone in the crowd would see it and send 20 bucks or something — because they thought it was funny.
“Once we hit $600, I was like, ‘Oh. Well, I can do something better than beer money with this,’” King recalled.
By announcing on social media his altered mission for the donations, money began pouring in for the Children’s Hospital. Venmo and Busch both committed to matching what he raises.
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Other corporations have promised hefty donations, including Prairie Meadows Casino and Hotel, the company for which King works as armed security.
Prairie Meadows has pledged $10,000; Northwest Mutual has pledged $50,000; DeWitte Construction is giving $300 for every roof it sells — bringing the total to more than $1 million.
As of Monday, Venmo — a digital money sharing site — was reporting 20,000-some donations to King’s campaign, ranging from 5 cents to $1,000, from all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Interested donors have reached out from other countries, but King said Venmo isn’t internationally available, and he’s urged those potential donors to give directly to the Children’s Hospital.
The UI Center for Advancement has been watching for direct donations related to King’s campaign but has received only one so far, according to center spokeswoman Dana Larson. The center is working with King to determine where specifically to direct the donations once he closes his campaign, Larson said.
“The funds will directly benefit patients and families at UI Stead Family Children’s Hospital,” she said.
In that King’s Venmo account had amassed $342,964 as of 1 p.m. Monday, he has reached out to some tax lawyers to iron out any logistics in collecting and distributing the donations.
They’ve considered starting a foundation, transferring the money there, then making the gift through the foundation, King said.
“I have people looking out for me to make sure something wonky doesn’t happen after all the generosity,” he said.
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According to Venmo’s user agreement, the mobile payment service doesn’t act as an agent, guarantee the identity of any user or seller, determine tax liability, or collect or pay taxes “that may arise from your use of our services.” Although many of its services are free, Venmo charges 3 percent to send money by credit card.
The corporate donors — such as Busch and Venmo — are giving directly to the hospital, King said.
And although some people suggested King take a cut of the collective outpouring to cover his student loans, King said he won’t.
“I can make do,” he said. “I have a full-time job. So I’m able to pay for my house and pay student loans. I can cover my own bills.”
As originally promised, King said he does plan to keep enough to buy one case of Busch Light — which runs at about $16 at Walmart — even though Busch since has promised a year’s supply of the beverage, packaged in special Carson King tallboy cans imprinted with his face.
So far, King has seen just one of those cans — although a petition with tens of thousands of signatures is circulating to get the Carson King special edition sold across Iowa. And the story has gained traction outside this state as well, with King giving more than 100 interviews.
“It’s crazy,” he said. “It really does restore your faith in humanity a little bit — showing how many good people there are and how people can hear about a good cause and really get behind it and help out.”
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