‘Sweet Caro­line’

More than just the name of a song

Times-Record - - Front Page - By DENAE SPIERING dspier­ing@ches­pub.com

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.

CONTRIBUTED PHO­TOS

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.

CONTRIBUTED PHO­TOS

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.

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