Out of work for the foreseeable future thanks to the coronavirus shutdown of Beaufort’s restaurants and bars, self-employed DJ Cathryn Miller, nonetheless, has found herself with more to do than she ever imagined.
Miller, the owner of Lowcountry Event Services, woke up Friday to 200 Facebook notifications and 67 Facebook messages. While it’s fair to say Miller is popular, this was about something else entirely.
A little more than two weeks ago, when the state’s restaurants and bars were shut down and prohibited from offering sit-down service as one of the steps taken to slow the spread of he COVID-19 novel coronavirus, Miller brainstormed about a way to help the food and beverage industry employees who were suddenly without paychecks or any imminent promise of relief.
What she came up with was “LOWCOUNTRY AUCTIONS for Bar, Restaurant and entertainment staff out of work.” It’s a public Facebook page, run solely by Miller, where people donate items to be auctioned.
The proceeds from each individual auction are earmarked to a specific food and beverage or entertainment worker.
“I have been in the hospitality industry for most of my life and wanted to do something for those less fortunate than myself,” Miller said. “I came up with this particular idea because the money goes directly to the worker and not some third party like what happens with GoFundMe. Transparency is a huge deal to me – I’ve been scammed donating to other fundraisers. This group also allows the entire community to be a part of helping and has created such positivity.”
Positivity is an understatement. By all standards, the operation has been a huge success.
When someone donates an item to be auctioned off, the next thing that happens is a worker is chosen to be the beneficiary of the auction. Miller allows the auction item’s donor to choose, or if they have no one in mind, she can pick.
“I get a ton of messages every day from people nominating a co-worker or a friend,” Miller said. “I take the toughest ones first, then I go down my list.”
But Miller doesn’t just post the item for auction and who’ll profit. She takes the time to makes sure both parties get their due.
“I list the auctions the way I do, telling a story because I want those bidding to feel like they know the worker,” she said. “I also want to make sure the entire community knows who donated what. Generosity like this at this time is huge.”
After two weeks, there are more than 80 auctions listed on Miller’s makeshift chart on the wall in her house. (She also keeps a detailed ledger.)
Because bids change every hour, it’s hard to figure out money totals at any given time, but no auction finishes at less than $100, she said, while some are at more than $300 and still running. Auctions are set up to last seven to 10 days.
Miller arranges for the winning bidder to send the amount directly to the worker. Then, the delivery of the auction item from the donor to the winner is arranged.
Auction items have ranged from gift certificates to new, unopened cookware to autographed baseball memorabilia.
Getting it up and running
Miller credits Paul Thompson, owner of Paninis On The Waterfront for a lot of the venture’s success from the beginning.
“I believe (Paul) was the reason this took off the way it did,” Miller said. “His business is hurting pretty bad right now, but he was the first business to donate. He gave me more than $1,000 in gift cards to his business. From there, a huge amount of local businesses have jumped in to donate and help.”
In addition, Thompson paid for an advertisement.
“What has amazed me is the businesses taking the biggest hits are the ones donating,” Miller said. “They are incredible.”
Miller also gave shout out to Robin Price of Plums.
“These are the two main people that continually help me either with nominees, donations or spreading the word,” Miller said. “Though Paul started it and continues, Robin has been in listing so many people to jump into the group and contacting businesses to donate items or gift certificates. I do not even know her personally, but through this I feel like I really do. She has been a great help.”
To help get the idea off the ground, Miller said she raided her own house for any new, unused items to auction.
“Between this and Panini’s, it boosted it enough to grow, and I’m so grateful for everyone who’s joined. It seems I have a lot of Le Creuset cookware in boxes,” she said laughing. “Well, … I did. I auctioned a lot of it.”
Elizabeth Beliveau, a now-idle bartender at Crybabies, said it’s not the first time Miller has gone above and beyond for her community. Between Christmas toy drives for kids in Yemassee, fundraisers for all sorts of animals and buying fans for elderly nursing home patients, Beliveau said Miller hardly ever finds a way to say ‘no’ and always believes in her heart more can be done.
“The list with this wonderful woman goes on and on, honestly,” Beliveau said. “When this virus hit, she didn’t hesitate to get a page going and reach out and add a lot of us. And in the days immediately following, the numbers shot up.
“This community definitely benefits from her and her husband. Every auction, benefit or fundraiser always starts off with them being the first to donate, and never ever do they want anything in return.”
Miller said she just wanted something to get attention for those who needed help.
“Material items mean nothing, and if it helps someone when the going is rough, then it’s all worth it. My biggest happiness is not only helping these guys, but watching the community rally around them.”
No plans to stop now
Miller is Australian by birth and came to the United States in 2000. She was a permanent resident green card holder until October 2018 when she took the oath to become a United States citizen.
“The South Carolina Lowcountry is my home now,” Miller said. “I found where I want to be. The people remind me of the small Australian town I grew up in. They’re the best!”
Her husband of 21 years is a retired Marine who works at MCAS Beaufort.
While Miller is out of work, her husband is still employed, allowing her to spend her time helping others.
As of last Monday, Miller’s page has raised a total of $4,727 for 35 different food and beverage workers.
But she has no intention of stopping anytime soon. My goal is to keep this group running until everyone is back at work, she said.
“This has been all-consuming from 9 a.m. to midnight daily,” Miller said. “But I would not stop as just watching all the positivity, as well as getting a little help for our workers, is so worth it.
“And it’s not like I have a job for the foreseeable future, so I’ve got time.”
Story originally published on The Island News by Mike McComb