More than just the name of a song
DENTON — Anyone who has ever been to a North Caroline football game can attest to the sound of Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” played and sung proudly from the stands at the end of each game. That song and spirit have grown Ben Cahall’s giving nature into a movement.
Cahall’s SweetCaroline movement began this past fall in an effort to raise money for North Caroline High School’s cross-country team through the sale of bumper stickers that say “Sweet Caroline.”
Cahall, known to some as “the big grumpy bouncer” at Dave’s Place in Ridgely, is better known lately as “The Giving Man.”
“I’m like Shrek — an ogre — I have layers,” Cahall said. “People assume that, because I’m big guy and I don’t always have a smile on my face, but it’s because I am always thinking. I have a million things on my mind, all at once.”
What is on his mind these days is how to help the people around him.
SweetCaroline bumper stickers started as a cross-country-specific fundraiser to earn spirit wear for this year’s team. Sloan Stafford, a teacher at Ridgely Elementary School, originally came up with the idea of selling the bumper stickers, and Mack Davis of Shore Sign Company donated all the bumper stickers to be sold for the cross-country fundraiser. They quickly sold out.
After the bumper stickers had sold out, people still were approaching Cahall for them. He could see there was a demand there, and wanted to be able to capitalize on that need but for a greater cause.
Cahall currently works three jobs and has three children, ages 16, 14 and 13, and he remembers a time seven years ago when he had lost his job, just two weeks before Christmas.
“It was a choice I made that resulted in me losing my job,” Cahall said. “My fault, I accept that, but it meant someone else had to step in and help me. It killed me. Fortunately, I had family that stepped up and helped me.”
Knowing not everyone has people who can help them, Cahall thought SweetCaroline might be the saving grace for those families.
Growing up, Cahall was raised by his mother and grandmother, and he witnessed them give to so many people in the community, even when they did not have much to give themselves. Cahall remembers the two women dragging him along as they raised money and dropped off donations to families in need.
Inspired by his mother and grandmother’s giving spirit, Cahall wanted to do something big this year to make a difference for women just like them — women who give all they have to their families and communities, but may be in need themselves.
“I’ve always donated to Toys for Tots, but I wanted to do something bigger this year. I was missing that face-to-face connection,” he said.
Cahall went online and found a place to get more bumper stickers printed and set a goal for what he wanted to raise. He purchased 500 SweetCaroline stickers, with the hopes of adopting a few families this Christmas with the proceeds.
Cahall took to Facebook and started posting about what he was doing, and his friends responded. The word got out quickly. He sold the stickers for $5 each. He started
receiving donations from old classmates and the community, as well. Cahall has raised almost $3,000 since the middle of November.
Single moms were nominated by friends and family, and more and more people began coming forward with moms they knew were in need. Cahall realized the need was far greater than he had imagined. He didn’t want to help just a few families — he wanted to help them all.
During the weekends, Cahall drives for Uber on the western shore, and he began donating his weekend fares to his cause. He had signs printed to hang on the back of his truck seats, which let his passengers know all proceeds, donations or tips were going to help single moms this Christmas. He raised $800 in two weekends.
Cahall was able to help 12 families this year; familes from Caroline, Talbot and Queens Anne’s counties. A representative from the Department of Social Services in Denton recently contacted Cahall about the movement and asked if there was any way he could help out with the department’s Angel Tree. Although Cahall had already donated all the money he raised, he agreed to take up the new challenge.
He reached out to Dave’s Place in Ridgely, and the establishment agreed to hold a 50/50 raffle for SweetCaroline, which raised $120. Cahall raised another $442 continuing to drive for Uber and started receiving more donations, as well. With those donations, Cahall was able to help a few more families, as well as the Angel Tree at social services.
In addition to gathering monetary donations, Cahall coordinated a book donation for Elizabeth Cole-Vespa, a teacher at Lockerman Middle School. Ashley Garret Burl donated some sturdy wooden book shelves she designed and painted for the students. On Dec. 19, Cahall surprised the Lockerman Middle School classroom with nearly 400 books.
“It was such a blessing,” Cole-Vespa said. “I was able to load up my students book bags with books to take home over the holiday break. They love books, but I didn’t really have anything to give them beforehand.”
Cahall will continue to sell SweetCaroline bumper stickers to raise money, and he said his mind already is brewing with new ideas to raise money throughout the year for different causes, including the local food pantry. Additionally, he said he plans to develop SweetCaroline into a nonprofit.
“I just had a simple idea to help a few families, and the project just grew and grew,” Cahall said. “It’s like a tidal wave — it’s growing, it’s awesome and I’m going to keep pushing. I’m that person in your face and annoying, but it’s not about me, it’s about the SweetCaroline movement.”
Dave’s Place already has committed to holding a monthly 50/50 raffle, with the proceeds placed into a fund for Christmas next year.
“Most of us are blessed beyond what we need,” Cahall said. “Why not share a little bit of that?”
To donate to SweetCaroline or to purchase a bumper sticker, contact Cahall at 410-714-2001 or Benjamincahall@gmail.com.
Ben Cahall is pictured with his grandmother, Virginia Cahall, one of the women who inspired Ben to start the SweetCaroline movement. Virginia is a volunteer at a church food party in Goldsboro.
Through donations, bumper sticker sales and Ben Cahall's Uber driving, he was able to purchase this new bike for the Angel Tree at the Caroline County Department of Social Services.
north Caroline High School's cross-country team is pictured. Ben Cahall started his Sweet Caroline movement in an effort to raise money to purchase spirit wear for the team. The movement grew from there.
The SweetCaroline bumper sticker sparked and helped fund a movement, which bought 12 families and a middle school classroom at Lockerman Middle School joy this past Christmas.