Virtual fundraiser aims to raise $25,000 for Baltimore restaurants

Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr. signs a football to be auctioned off to benefit the struggling Baltimore restaurant industry. (Submitted Photo)

Orioles great Cal Ripken Jr. signs a football to be auctioned off to benefit the struggling Baltimore restaurant industry. (Submitted Photo)

It was Baltimore’s December shutdown of indoor and outdoor dining that inspired Kris Ruhling to raise funds to support the city’s restaurants. But it was partnerships with the likes of the Baltimore Ravens, 98ROCK and Jimmy’s Famous Seafood that shaped Ruhling’s “Save Baltimore 2021” fundraiser into the virtual event it has become.

Ruhling is no stranger to charity work. The Baltimore native did nonprofit work frequently throughout his 15 years working in the auto industry, and when opened Great 8 Memorabilia, a Baltimore sports collectibles shop, last year, he imagined using the space to host fundraising and nonprofit events. 

Nevertheless “Save Baltimore 2021” will be different than anything he’s done before; the two-week online auction, which will culminate in a telethon-like, livestreamed event on Feb. 6 hosted by 98ROCK’s Justin Schlegel, is his first foray into virtual events. 98ROCK’s parent company, Hearst Baltimore, will also act as a media partner for the fundraising effort, promoting it across its radio and television channels.

The auction will feature rare sports items, the pièce de résistance being a football signed by both Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr., two of the “great 8s” for which Ruhling’s business is named. 

The memorabilia featured in the auction was funded by the event’s sponsors; others, Ruhling says, were contributed by the teams and players themselves.

Currently, about 40% of what is listed on the auction site was either paid for by a sponsor or donated. Ruhling is still looking for more sponsors to fund the remaining 60%, so that all of the money earned at the auction can be donated to restaurants.

Though he knew he wanted this event to support restaurants, Ruhling was unsure where, exactly, to donate the proceeds, which he expects to exceed $25,000. In hopes of supporting as many restaurant owners and workers as possible, he approached The Baltimore Restaurant Relief Fund and its president, David Seel, who has been advocating for restaurant owners and employees since the pandemic’s onset.

“I want … the money to go to The Baltimore Restaurant Relief Fund because it’s like, how do you pick one restaurant when everyone is struggling?” Ruhling said.

It’s only the latest partnership Seel has forged with local businesses. MileOne Autogroup, a chain of car dealerships in the mid-Atlantic region, has funneled $30,000 into an initiative that pays Baltimore restaurants $1,500 each to cook 100 meals for unemployed restaurant workers. 

The program, dubbed “Feed the Industry,” is now going on its fourth week; so far, it has distributed a third of its funds across twelve restaurants and has produced 1,000 meals.

The Baltimore Restaurant Relief Fund is looking for ways to continue the campaign even once MileOne’s initial contribution has been exhausted, which is where Ruhling’s fundraiser comes into play. If the event raises the estimated $25,000, $10,000 will be donated to the fund, allowing them to feed several hundred more unemployed or underemployed restaurant workers.

In addition, he will be contributing $10,000 to The Famous Fund, a GoFundMe started by John Minadakis, the owner of Jimmy’s Famous Seafood, a friend of Ruhling and a sponsor of the event. The fundraiser, which contributes directly to local restaurants, has raised almost $145,000 after being open less than two days.

If the event raises more than the projected $25,000, Ruhling said, he will increase his donations to The Baltimore Restaurant Relief Fund and The Famous Fund. Remaining funds will be distributed to individual restaurants.

“I just wanted to help as many people as possible,” Ruhling said. “There’s a whole army of people out there helping people and I want to join them and do my part.”

Those interested can contribute to the event both by participating in the auction, which will go live at http://savebaltimore2021.com on Jan. 24, or by donating directly at https://www.bmorerestaurantrelief.org/donate. Businesses that donate more than $1,000 using the latter link will be promoted throughout the livestream, Ruhling said.

The gala portion of the fundraiser will be held Feb. 6 at 7 p.m., during which nine Maryland bands will play live performances and other local celebrities and figures will make appearance. According to Ruhling, several bonus collectibles that were not previously available during the auction will be unveiled during the livestream.

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