It’s the gift that keeps giving. The ubiquitous memes of a cozy Sen. Bernie Sanders at President Biden’s inauguration are not only satiating the internet’s appetite for humor, it’s literally feeding people. CNN reports that merchandise inspired by the viral image of a bundled up Sanders has raised over $1.8 million for various charities in Vermont, including Meals on Wheels.
The Sanders team began selling a “Chairman Sanders Collection” of crewneck sweatshirts and T-shirts featuring the viral image on Jan. 21, but CNN reports that the first batch of merchandise sold out in under 30 minutes — the store restocked over the weekend but the items quickly sold out again by Monday morning.
Age Well Vermont, which assists with northwestern Vermont’s aging population and is one of the largest providers of Meals on Wheels in Vermont, tweeted their gratitude, saying “We are BLOWN AWAY by the support for our Meals on Wheels program by [Sen. Sanders] and so many folks local and across the country.” Jane Catton, Age Well’s CEO, told local Vermont news station WCAX that there’s been a 30% to 40% uptick in donations since the pandemic. “On behalf of all of the area agencies on aging and our partners in the community who help us provide meal services, this is a tremendous gift and we couldn’t be more grateful,” Catton said.
Elsewhere, a Texas woman named Tobey King also auctioned off a handmade crochet doll of Sanders on eBay, promising to donate all proceeds to charity. According to CNN, King was inspired by Burton Snowboards (the coat brand Sanders was wearing on Inauguration Day … or seemingly any day) donating 50 jackets in the senator’s name to the Burlington Department for Children and Families. King’s crochet doll sold for $20,300, but an eBay spokesperson told CNN that they were so inspired by King’s gesture, they decided to match the winning bid, amounting to an additional $40,000 for Meals on Wheels America.
Finally, Jen Ellis, the Vermont schoolteacher who knitted the now-famous mittens for Sanders, made an additional three pairs and donated them to Passion 4 Paws Vermont and Outright Vermont. (The third pair will be auctioned off on eBay to help with Ellis’ daughter’s college fund).
Brendan Smialowski, the photographer who shot the image of Sanders, told The New York Times that he has been genuinely enjoying the “lighthearted moment from a political photo,” saying “Things have been pretty tough for the last year and politics can be pretty nasty, and here are people just having fun.” The Times also reported that “Getty Images, which licensed Mr. Smialowski’s photo for the merchandise, will donate its proceeds from the license to Meals on Wheels America.”
All the donations to Meals on Wheels are timely considering the COVID-19 pandemic is still ravaging the United States; in the midst of the health care and economic crisis, Americans are also dealing with a rise in food insecurity with an estimated 50 million people saying they either don’t have enough money to buy the food they need or have been forced to skip meals in order to help make ends meet.