Nearly two months ago, Chris Kopec used his iPhone to DJ live on Facebook for the first time.
“I decided that we would fire up the DJ gear, more as a stress relief for our family,” the 42-year-old Ellicott City resident said.
He invited family and friends to join his quarantine dance party on March 21, attempting to entertain his children, ages 5, 6 and 8, simultaneously during the coronavirus pandemic. That Saturday night, however, more than 26,000 people tuned in. Overnight, the video’s views rose to 1.4 million.
Little did Kopec know the quarantine would continue for another two months with no end in sight. He also wasn’t expecting his music would start dance parties in homes across the country and he would raise nearly $1 million in donations.
“I’ve been DJing since I was in middle school but never anything live on Facebook, nor did we think it would be this,” the former volunteer firefighter said.
DJ Kopec, as he’s known, put a virtual tip jar up to pay for some of the additional supplies needed to livestream from his basement. As the donations poured in, he quickly realized there was more good that could be done. He has spent the past two months using his quarantine dance parties to raise funds for first responders, food banks and hospital employees.
“Our short-term goal is to try to help as many people as we can,” he said.
In the second week, there were 33,600 live viewers, with 1.4 million views that night. In total, Kopec’s videos have been viewed 7.4 million times.
Kopec prepares a “little set” before he goes live, taking suggestions and recommendations, and then people join. The comments section fills with people saying “hello” and making jokes. In the first night there were 74,000 comments.
“People joking, ‘I’m going to the fridge. Anyone need anything?’ ” Kopec said. “We’ve gotten thousands of pictures and video messages from families saying thank you.”
On his first night, Kopec raised enough money to pay for pizza for all of Howard County’s firefighters, the police department, sheriffs and the 911 center. River House Pizza in Ellicott City delivered 500 pizzas with the first week’s donations.
Wendi Loraine, operations manager at River House Pizza, said the restaurant was initially working to adapt to coronavirus norms with “take and bake” pizzas; helping out the community was their next step.
Kopec and River House Pizza owner Nathan Sowers are neighbors, making the collaboration much easier in the pandemic era.
“It makes you feel better when you’re helping other people; it’s a good feeling,” Loraine said. “Everything is so hard, being isolated, not being in the community. That’s part of this restaurant.”
Each week that followed, Kopec was able to collect more donations and more viewers. In his second week, Holly Poultry said it would donate a pound of chicken for each viewer Kopec received. The poultry distributor ended up donating 50,000 pounds of chicken to 14 Baltimore-area food banks, supplying them each with a month’s worth of meat.
Holly Poultry also donated 10,000 additional pounds in honor of Kopec’s wife’s, April, birthday.
H&S Bakery in Baltimore donated the bread for 30,000 breakfast sandwiches, with Baltimore-based State Street Poultry donating the bacon and cheese and Nature’s Yolk in York, Pennsylvania, donating the eggs. Ultimately those sandwiches went to Mercy and University of Maryland hospitals in Baltimore, and leftover supplies went to the Anne Arundel County Food Bank. The Hershey Company also donated more than 12,000 chocolate bars.
“The rest of this was companies coming and saying, ‘We were inspired by what you do. We want to help,’ ” Kopec said. “Everyone’s been pitching in.”
Kopec doesn’t have much philanthropic experience, so once he realized the scale of the endeavor he and his family took on, he enlisted the United Way to help him make it happen.
“Instead of just being the entertainer, it’s become a full-blown business operation,” he said.
Since the initial kickoff, Kopec has diversified his events, hosting workout sessions and happy hours along with the weekend dance parties.
On May 9, he hosted a Throwback Prom that was 1980s and 1990s themed, taking him and many of his viewers down memory lane. Kopec and his family got dressed up for the occasion, and he streamed prom photos that viewers sent in from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s on the screen while he was playing.
“It was so freaking cool,” he said. “We had a great time with the music and it was something different to do. We had a lot of people actually get dressed up.”
This weekend will bring the return of family night, the theme Kopec started with back in March. He said he wanted to gear his set to the core family audience listening.
He’ll be fundraising for the Baltimore Child Abuse Center and is hoping to raise $100,000.
“There’s a good shot we’ll break the million-dollar mark in our basement this weekend,” Kopec said, which would include monetary and food donations.
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After his Saturday performance, Kopec said he and his family will take a fundraising break to focus on the music.
“We’ve been going hard for two months straight,” Kopec said. “We’re going to give back to our viewers with a month of music, no charity events.”
He wants to answer the thousands of unread messages viewers have sent him, and he wants to enjoy dancing in his basement alongside his kids.
“We started it to reduce stress and it’s become a little stressful, and I want to give my family a break,” he said.
In June, Kopec said he and his family will be back with a big charity event that is currently in the works.
“We’ve appreciated the community of this all. It’s given a community for so many. They’ve helped us with our spirits in the house. This has been a source of community and entertainment,” Kopec said.
“When this is done and we can all get back to normal, we want to throw a massive party somewhere. Everyone says, ‘I’m there, I’m there, just tell us when.’ ”