SCHENECTADY — Charlie Farnum is still shocked about the support a simple request he made via Facebook received 10 years ago.
It was around Thanksgiving in 2011 when Farnum posted a message asking his friends on the social media platform to donate what they could to help purchase holiday meals for the City Mission of Schenectady, where he started volunteering just months earlier.
The post garnered $151 in donations, enough to purchase 76 Thanksgiving dinners featuring all the classics — turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and homemade dessert — that would help feed City Mission residents and hundreds more throughout the community that had fallen on tough times.
“I was blown away,” Farnum said Monday.
In the decade since, raising money for the mission around Thanksgiving has become an annual tradition for Farnum, who has watched in amazement as a simple request has taken on a life of its own.
Contributions have continued to grow each year, with donations reaching a total of $7,025 last year — enough to purchase 3,011 meals.
To date, Farnum has helped raise nearly $30,000 for the City Mission through his annual request for donations, enough to purchase more than 13,000 meals. This year alone, the effort has brought in $8,602, the equivalent to 3,321 meals, which Farnum believes will grow as the holiday approaches.
Farnum said it’s his first hand experience working with the mission that keeps him motivated, which he has seen rub off on those who donate each year.
The City Mission distributes between 500 and 600 meals each day and offers housing to around 85 residents at its two shelters located along Hamilton Street.
In addition, the nonprofit helps feed children though its backpack program and offers transitional housing and training programs to help people get back on their feet. Many who pass through its doors go on to become ambassadors for the City Mission, helping to educate and inspire those in need.
“They take broken people that have lost everything and they rebuild them to beautiful, productive, energetic people,” Farnum said. “All they needed was a hand up. They needed someone to believe that they were good and that they were going to be OK.”
Earlier this year, when donations were lagging, one donor announced a matching goal, asking others to raise money to purchase 150 meals. He would later write a $500 check of his own.
In 2019, Farnum said he had no plans to host the fundraiser due to a series of personal issues. But just 12 days before Thanksgiving, a woman sent him a $25 check for the mission explaining she didn’t hear anything about the drive and wanted to still donate. Farnum then took to social media to request additional donations, and helped raise $3,365 in under two weeks for the mission, enough to purchase 1,405 meals.
Still, Farnum said he has little to do with raising the money, instead crediting the hundreds of donors who contribute each year. He records each name in a series of notebooks and writes personal “thank you” cards to each donor explaining how their money was used and the difference their contribution has made in the life of others.
“People say I do this. I don’t do this. I have nothing to do with this,” Farnum said. “I facilitate and my friends, who are so generous, see what happens with this money and they want to be part of it. They’re incredible people.”
But Michael Saccocio, executive director of the City Mission, believes Farnum has played a significant role in the process, which extends well beyond simply raising funds.
In the past decade, Farnum has become sort of a spokesperson for the organization which in turn has brought hope to thousands and inspired countless others, Saccocio said.
“The most important message for me is that everybody can make a difference,” he said.
Asked how he felt about Saccocio’s words, Farnum shook his head.
“I’m not that special,” he said. “I’m just a guy.”
Contact reporter Chad Arnold at: 518-410-5117 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @ChadGArnold.