Bad things are happening across the world.
There’s terrorism in Europe, war in the Middle East and shootings across our country, but it took one guy peddling ice cream to disadvantaged kids in Buffalo to grab the attention of people around the globe by offering them a glimmer of hope.
It’s the heartwarming story of James Karagiannis, whose “ice creamcycle” business gives children who cannot afford a frozen treat the chance to “earn” it by writing a thank-you postcard. The story has drawn the attention of newspapers, television stations and social media outlets in Europe, Asia and North America.
“It has kids and ice cream in it, so it’s a cute story because of that,” said Jana Puetz of the German news network RTL Nord. “We’re living in times where horrible things happen so [there’s a need for] seeing someone doing good in general and especially trying to teach kids what’s right and what’s wrong.... He wants (kids) to learn life lessons. When you get something, you have to have something to give (in reference to the thank-you notes). It’s an important point.”
Puetz and a production crew flew here Tuesday from New York to film Karagiannis at work selling frozen novelties for $1 each from his bicycle-powered cart at several locations.
Since The Buffalo News published the story of the “Ice Creamcycle Dude” on July 17, the smartphone that Karagiannis carries everywhere has blown up like an overinflated bike tire.
Donations started to pour in as the story went viral. As of Tuesday, almost $29,000 has been raised to buy ice cream for children.
On Tuesday morning, Karagiannis cleaned his garage while he and a coworker waited for the film crew to arrive. The 36-year-old said he was overwhelmed by the buzz his story has created.
“What surprised me were the phone calls and emails and messages from people around the world who said my story inspired them to start something similar in their community,” he said. “It’s mind-boggling because I didn’t really think we were doing anything really inspirational.”
“Huffington Post called. ABC News called. Some papers in England called,” he said. “I’m getting emails every time someone donates, and the alert on my phone was constant. The donations were from all over the country, like California, Texas, Indiana.”
Inside the garage in the back of his North Buffalo home that serves as his business hub, a string of multicolored popsicle-shaped lights hang from the ceiling, a red, white and blue blow-up popsicle is suspended on one wall.
“I just thought it was the nice thing to do, buy a kid ice cream because he can’t buy it and he clearly wants it. Maybe teach him manners, or whatever, and put a smile on the face of the donor.”
A majority of the amounts donated are $10 and $20, said Karagiannis. But a few have been as high as $500. Along with the donations, people are reaching out to Karagiannis from other cities – Austin, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago – asking for help to start similar efforts in their communities.
Can this be a bigger movement? Karagiannis is beginning to wonder.
“I really need everything to settle for a bit, and I need to finish this spreadsheet, he said, showing a stack of 30 papers each page listing the names of five donors. It represents one day of donations.
“I check off the name when a postcard is sent out,” Karagiannis said. He sits at a table with 5,000 postage stamps in front of him. “I promised these people a postcard. Have you ever seen this many stamps in your life?”
And now the real work begins, distributing $29,000 of ice cream treats sold at $1 each.
“So now we just have to hand all this ice cream out, but that may be difficult. I want to stay true to what we want to do. It’s for poor kids who don’t have a dollar. I don’t want to ride around and say free ice cream. It’s not that.
“Like I said, I never thought we’d raise this much.”
Here's a sampling of links to articles from websites around the world about the Ice Creamcycle Dude:
Business Insider Australia: This man gives away free ice cream to kids who answer math and history questions
TimesofMalta.com: 'Ice Cream Dude' rewards studious kids with free ice cream
Sophie Winter and Zoe Chevalier contributed to this report.